Experts said at a water conference on Thursday that the desert is making a comeback in the Middle East, with fertile lands turning into barren wastes that could further destabilize the area, according to a recent AFP report.
“Desertification spreads like cancer, it can’t be noticed immediately,” said Wadid Erian, a soil expert with the Arab League, at a conference on Thursday in the Egyptian coastal town of Alexandria.
Erian said that the effects could be seen in Syria, where drought has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, ruining farmers and swelling cities.
He said that Darfur is still stumbling from a devastating war aggravated by a shortage of water and fertile land.
The United Nation’s Development Program’s 2009 Arab Human Development Report said desertification threatened close to 1.15 million square miles of land. This is a fifth of the Middle East and north Africa.
Erian said a big portion of rangeland and agriculture land was under threat, and little effort has been taken to reverse the process.
He said that thriving populations and climate change are speeding up the trend.
“The trend in the Arab world leans towards aridity. We are in a struggle against a natural trend, but it is the acceleration that scares us,” he said.
“Most Arab countries until 2006 dealt with it as one problem among many. Then agriculture ministers described it as a danger threatening the Arab world. That is because they began to feel pain.”
A UN study from 2007 spoke of an “environmental crisis of global proportions” that could uproot 50 million people from their homes by 2010 in Africa.
Erian said that if unchecked, the trend could become a threat to international stability.
“It will lead to more immigration and less security. It will lead to people losing hope,” he said.
Fatima el-Malah, a climate change adviser for the Arab League, said despite its impact donor countries have yet to deal with desertification as a priority.
She said that The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification program was underfunded. “They said just draw a plan and we’ll fund you. There was never any funding.”