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Lebanon News

Lack of rain proves blessing for fishermen, curse for farmers

Cracks are visible in the ground in a field, due to drought, in Sidon. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: An erratic winter season has left farmers and fishermen in southern Lebanon high and dry, with agricultural workers struggling to maintain their crops amid an almost rainless January.

Naim Haddad, a farmer from Jezzine, said the agricultural season had been hit drastically, adding that wheat, fruit trees, vegetables and even pine trees were faring badly.

“Even the livestock has been affected by the lack of rain because there is less to graze on,” he said.

Haddad said the drought was due to climate change, pointing out that major industrialized countries were not upholding the Kyoto Protocol.

The 1997 agreement is the only global treaty that lays out targeted cuts to global emissions of certain greenhouse gases.

Haddad said farmers were resorting to alternative irrigation methods when possible but added that this costs farmers – and ultimately consumers – extra.

However, he said not all farmers could rely on such methods to save their crops and get to the harvesting stage without significant losses.

“There are large areas of agricultural land where alternative irrigation is not available, such as in forests and pastures,” he said.

Mahmoud Rida in Iqlim al-Tuffah echoed Haddad’s comments, adding that most of the farmers in the area had been forced to get water for their crops from springs or old wells in several towns and villages, or buy lands where they were available in some cases.

He said the need to secure water was urgent as farmers’ crops were at risk of damage if the weather remained dry.

“Usually a farmer irrigates his land every three days in the summer, but he only needs to do it once a month in winter under normal circumstances,” he added.

“But today, because of the lack of rain, the farmer finds himself compelled to search for secure sources of irrigation as though it were the summer season in order to satiate the land and provide water for plants and fruits so they can blossom,” Tuffah said.

Farmers have welcomed the sporadic bursts of rain over the last couple of days, and have voiced hope that February’s weather will make up for January.

The unusual weather, however, did not surprise the fishermen in the south of the country.

Veterans told The Daily Star that they had previously experienced similar rain shortages, and said that in contrast to the country’s farmers, the absence of storms and windy weather had allowed them to work more easily.

“In fishermen’s terms, this weather is called “the 40s,” as the ... clear weather remains so for 40 days, and a stormy and rainy climate also remains for 40 days,” said the secretary of the fishermen’s union in Sidon, Nazih Sanbal.

“After “the 40s” begins “the 50s,” which sees erratic weather: three days of clear skies, and three days of rain ... and it remains so for 50 days.”

According to Sanbal, fishermen do very well on days when there are no storms and the sea is calm, even if the weather is rainy.

“But we catch more fish after a storm has come and gone,” he added.

Union Vice President Mohammad Bouji said he expected February to witness strong storms and intermittent rain.

“The weather could be clear one day and then suddenly it turns rainy and stormy; we could be out in the middle of the sea and then find ourselves on land,” he said.

According to Abdel-Kader Hajj, the director of the Labaa Observatory east of Sidon, the amount of rainfall from September 2013 until now has reached 260.6 millimeters, as opposed to 966.4 millimeters recorded between October 2012 and January 2013.

This January has seen just 20 millimeters of rain, as opposed to 358.8 mm in January last year.

The observatory also reported that the amount of rainfall it had recorded over the last three years had shown an overall decrease in rainfall, falling to 850.9 mm in 2013 from 909.6 mm in 2011.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 29, 2014, on page 4.

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