More than two-thirds of the land in the Arab world is affected by desertification, a global problem that a recently released UN report calls “one of the most serious environmental challenges facing the world today”.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released its “Global Deserts Outlook” report – which aims to raise global awareness about the condition and development potential of the world’s deserts – on Monday. The release of the report coincided with World Environment Day, and referred to 2006 as an international Year of Deserts and Desertification.
Desertification, or the degradation of drylands, affects some 70 percent of land in the Arab region, according to the Damascus-based Arab Centre for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD). Semi-arid areas in particular, say environmentalists, are most at risk of desertification, due mainly to human-induced land degradation and climatic changes. “Our main concern is the aggravated rate of desertification due to irrational use of natural resources,” said ACSAD’s Gilani Abdelgawad.
Overgrazing is another major contributor to the phenomenon, and is responsible for roughly a quarter of the desertification in the region, according to UNEP’s Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA), which is based in Bahrain. “Continuing land degradation and desertification is still a serious threat to the livelihoods of the people of the Arab region,” ROWA noted in a recent statement. “It also has serious environmental, economic and social implications that could negatively affect the social and political stability of the region.”
In 1994, the international community adopted the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and most countries of the Middle East have ratified the convention since then. However, according to Abdelgawad, “more efforts are needed by the UNCCD to mobilise funds from donors to help populations most affected by desertification, like the inhabitants of rural areas”.
Abdelgawad suggested that this must be accompanied by efforts aimed at raising awareness of the problem among both local communities and decision-makers. “There have been great efforts by governments and regional and international organisations to overcome the desertification problem,” said Abdelgawad. “But still the problem worsens each day.”
The UNEP report is available online at www.unep.org
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