This study was undertaken to examine the influence of cyst nematodes (Heterodera sacchari) and drought stress, in isolation and combination, on the water status and growth of rice in Côte d'Ivoire. Drought is considered one of the main yield-limiting factors to upland rice in West Africa, while H. sacchari is emerging as a potentially serious pest. A field study conducted during 1997 at the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) showed that under low water availability in sandy soil, damage to a nematode susceptible Oryza sativa (cv IDSA6) is significant. Visual drought score and physiological parameters were significantly affected (P≤0.01) in plots with a mean population density of 39.4 H. sacchari eggs ml-1 soil at 81 days after sowing, compared to plots with a mean density of 1.2 eggs ml-1. Stomatal conductance, leaf water potential and relative water content were lower, leaf chlorophyll content was greater, and near total yield losses were observed in higher nematode density plots. In 1-l pots following 5 days of imposed drought, the H. sacchari-resistant and drought-resistant O. glaberrima (cv CG14) showed a reduction in stomatal conductance of 73% and in leaf water potential by 0.96 MPa (54%). The effect of H. sacchari (473 eggs l-1 soil) inoculated as cysts to soil before sowing was similar but less severe. The combination of both stresses had similar but yet more pronounced effects than the single stresses on stomatal conductance, leaf water potential and leaf dry weight in CG14. IDSA6 responded in a similar manner to CG14, but less acutely to both stresses. Only the combined stresses resulted in a significant (P≤0.05) reduction in osmotic potential and root dry weight compared with the control, for either CG14 or IDSA6. It is suggested that H. sacchari increased the effects of drought and drought-related losses. This may give a false impression of drought susceptibility in field screening for cultivars, and complicate models which predict crop damage caused by nematodes.