Land Degradation, Desertification "Most Critical Challenges" in West Asia, as Rolling Conflicts Damage Environment, Human Health

May 19, 2016
The spread of land degradation and desertification and its economic and environmental consequences are the "most critical challenges" facing West Asian countries. The scarcity of the region's renewable water resources also poses a major challenge, denting the region's ability to produce enough food to meet the growing population's needs. Drivers
  • Arable land degradation is caused by mismanagement, climate change and water scarcity.
  • Climate scenarios project changes in the region's temperature, rainfall and sea level, which will have impacts on both the availability and use of water resources.
  • High population growth and continuous conflicts and wars mean that the carrying capacity of the land has become too low to support people with freshwater and food.
  • Shrinking of agricultural lands is caused by population growth, urbanization, land degradation and desertification.
  • Increasing water demand has exacerbated the region's serious water scarcity and exerted pressure on groundwater extractions rates.
  • West Asia has been recognized as one of the major regions where sand and dust storms originate causing environmental, social and economic impacts.
Impacts
  • Food security in the region will be increasingly at risk, especially in the Mashriq countries and Yemen.
  • Land degradation has accelerated the rise of soil salinity, increased the rate of soil erosion and converted wetland to dryland.
  • Overexploitation of groundwater resources has resulted in a deterioration of water quality, seawater intrusion, depletion and salinization of aquifers, and rising pumping costs.
  • A prevalence of climate extremes and forecasted climate change may exacerbate the extent of land degradation and water scarcity in the region.
  • Water demand in West Asia has been increasing, resulting in a diminishing per-person availability of water. Only 4 out of 12 countries in West Asia are above the water scarcity limit of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year.
  • Due to its aridity and water scarcity, the region has already surpassed its natural capacity to meet its own food and water demand.
Examples
  • 97 per cent of Iraq's total area is arid, about 50 per cent of which is desert. Desertification affects 39 per cent of the country's surface area with an additional 54 per cent under threat.
  • Although Iraq has the largest area of available farmland in the region, it suffers the most from soil salinity and wind erosion.
  • Rangeland in Jordan covers more than 80 per cent of the country's total area, mainly used for pastoralism and agriculture. Conflicts over land-use and general mismanagement have led to overgrazing, land degradation and ultimately desertification. Livestock overgrazing is, possibly, the main cause of land deterioration and means that the land is no longer able to support the livestock that used to graze there.
Responses
  • Reuse domestic wastewater and recycle agricultural drainage water, groundwater inter-basin transfer, seawater and brackish water desalination.
  • Use of brackish and sea water for bio-saline and halophyte agriculture desalination can enhance the water availability throughout the region.
  • Integrated monitoring is essential to understanding the causes and consequences of desertification.
  • Efforts to combat land degradation and desertification in the region should capitalize on advances in science and technology for devising and up-scaling remedial and preventive measures.
  • Regional cooperation is key for combatting desertification, drought and dust storms.
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