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U.N. calls on nations to adopt drought policies

By John Heilprin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 21 2012 6:35 a.m. MDT

In this photo from Aug. 1, 2012, Todd Eggerling, of Martell, Neb., points to some of his cattle grazing on thin pasture. Due to the summer's record drought and heat his cattle operation is in bad shape. Eggerling would normally graze his 100 head of cattle through September, but the drought has left his pastureland barren. He's begun using hay he had planned to set aside for next year's cattle, and is facing the reality that he will have to sell the cattle for slaughter early at a loss.

Nati Harnik, Associated Press

GENEVA — The world urgently need to adopt drought-management policies as farmers from Africa to India struggle with lack of rainfall and the United States endures the worst drought it has experienced in decades, top officials with the U.N. weather agency said Tuesday.

The World Meteorological Organization says the U.S. drought and its ripple effects on global food markets show the need for policies with more water conservation and less consumption. It is summoning ministers and other high-level officials to a March meeting in Geneva where it will call for systematic measures toward less water consumption and more conservation.

U.S. farmers have experienced one of their worst growing seasons in memory. The annual corn harvest, for example, is much farther along than it ordinarily would be and expected to produce the least amount of corn since 2006 — despite the most acres of corn planted in more than 70 years — due to unusual triple-digit summer temperatures that disrupted pollination and a severe drought particularly in the middle of the country.

"Climate change is projected to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts, with impacts on many sectors, in particular food, water, health and energy," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. "We need to move away from a piecemeal, crisis-driven approach and develop integrated risk-based national drought policies."

Mannava V.K. Sivakumar, director of WMO's climate prediction and adaptation branch, says only Australia has a national policy toward drought and the advantage of a policy — rather than a disaster management, which some countries have — is that national action is required no matter who is in political power.

Australia's government says its 2004 policy is no longer sufficient to deal with climate change, however, and over the past two years it has tried a pilot program in western parts of the country aimed at shifting from a crisis-oriented approach to risk management.

Sivakumar said the agency is also encouraging more continuing support especially for "the poorest of the poor," small farmers whose daily wages determine whether they and their families will eat on any given day.

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