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Combating Desertification in MENA

  By Maha Ali Al-Zu’bi

Desertification is a worldwide phenomenon afflicting countries all over the world. The desert is making a comeback in the Middle East, with fertile lands turning into barren wastes. According to United Nation’s Development Program’s 2009 Arab Human Development Report, desertification is threatening around one-fifth of the MENA region. China is experiencing desertification at an alarming rate – as much as 1,300 square miles each year. Sub-Saharan Africa is drying up, as are regions of Turkey that were once rich agricultural lands.

During the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the world’s leaders adopted the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and agreed on the desertification definition as “Land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities”. This definition is now widely regarded to be most authoritative definition of desertification.

Dry areas are home to 2.5 billion people, cover more than 40% of the world’s land surface and have to sustain on less than 8% of the world’s renewable water resources. These areas are further challenged by extreme temperatures, frequent drought, land degradation and desertification. When fragile land in arid regions is overexploited by the demands of an expanding population, it loses its productive capacity. Every year 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, and the rate is increasing at an alarming pace.

Regional Scenario

Most of the territories of the MENA region fall within the boundaries of arid lands. Infact, degradation of drylands, affects some 70 percent of land in the Arab region, according to the Arab Centre for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD). Around 48.6 per cent of the land area in the Mashreq, 28.6 per cent in the Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa, 16.5 per cent in North Africa and 9 per cent in the Arabian Peninsula is endangered on account of desertification. Among MENA countries, the countries facing the greatest dangers are Libya, Egypt and Jordan. In the Arabian Peninsula, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE are the most affected countries.



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.