Desert spreading like 'cancer,' Egypt conference told

April 1, 2010
An aerial view taken of the Gyzeh pyramids near Cairo. The desert is making a comeback in the Middle East, with fertile lands turning into barren wastes that could further destabilise the region, experts said at a water conference on Thursday.

The desert is making a comeback in the Middle East, with fertile lands turning into barren wastes that could further destabilise the region, experts said at a water conference on Thursday.

"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.

Its effect can be seen in Syria, where drought has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, ruining farmers and swelling cities, Erian said.

He said Darfur in western Sudan is still reeling from a devastating war exacerbated by a shortage of water and fertile land.

The United Nations Development Programme's 2009 Arab Human Development Report said desertification threatened about 2.87 million square kilometres of land (1.15 million square miles) -- or a fifth of the Middle East and north Africa.

Erian said a large portion of rangeland and agricultural land was under threat, with little effort taken so far to reverse the process.

Burgeoning populations, which put further strain on the environment, and climate change are accelerating the trend, he said.

"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 2007 UN study spoke of an "environmental crisis of global proportions" that could uproot 50 million people from their homes by 2010, mostly in Africa.

Erian said that if unchecked, the trend could emerge as a threat to international stability, a conclusion shared by the UN report.

"It will lead to more immigration and less security. It will lead to people losing hope," he said.

Fatima el-Malah, a adviser for the Arab League, said despite its impact donor countries have not dealt with desertification as a priority.

Programmes by the United Nations Convention to Combat were underfunded, she said. "They said just draw a plan and we'll fund you. There was never any funding."

Explore further: Conventional wisdom wrong about Arab journalists' anti-Americanism

Related Stories

38 percent of world's surface in danger of desertification

February 9, 2010

A team of Spanish researchers has measured the degradation of the planet's soil using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a scientific methodology that analyses the environmental impact of human activities, and which now for ...

Russian Rocket To Orbit Arab Satellite February 28

February 14, 2006

The launch of the Proton-M Russian carrier rocket with the Arab communications satellite ArabSat 4A has been scheduled for February 28 at 8:10 p.m. GMT at the Baikonur Space Center, the Russian Federal Space Agency said Monday. ...

Mars radar could help find water in Mideast: NASA

April 1, 2010

Technology used to discover underground ice on Mars could also be used in the search for water on Earth and help ward off conflict in the arid Middle East, a NASA scientist said Thursday.

Recommended for you

How the Elwha dam removals changed the river's mouth

January 19, 2018

For decades, resource managers agreed that removing the two dams on the Elwha River would be a big win for the watershed as a whole and, in particular, for its anadromous trout and salmon. The dams sat on the river for more ...

Glacial moulin formation triggered by rapid lake drainage

January 18, 2018

Scientists are uncovering the mystery of how, where and when important glacial features called moulins form on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Moulins, vertical conduits that penetrate through the half-mile-deep ice, efficiently ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 01, 2010
this is something that should not be fought but planned for, on an intternational scale. - unless a reallly cheap salt-water desallinization technology hits the market, desertification is a phenomenon that can`t be fought much.
3 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2010
Multiple advances in desalinization tech lately.

It's the same old story, though- you'd have to fund an "entitlement" program to purify and distribute water on a humanitarian basis, because no capitalist is going to build the machine and distribution network simply out of altruism, or fellow-feeling.

The people affected don't have the money to buy food, much less buy the water to grow it. Therefore, since there is no profit to be made, nothing is done to address the problem(which could also serve as a field R&D laboratory), which means people hit the road.

Watch for them in your area soon.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2010
There is a relatively very simple solution to desertification. It involves large herds of cattle.

Check out this video:
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2010
That's good stuff- I had encountered some of Savory's ideas before, but never expounded in a comprehensive fashion.
Considerable food for thought there. Land in west texas should be available for cheap right now. You may have provided me with the beginnings of a big idea. An R&D laboratory, of sorts, of my own, that I might be able to put to use for the benefit of others, as well.
Muchas Gracias.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2010
Thanks, Sepp. I do believe that Savory and the source of his information seem to be correct. More future research along these ends is a must, in my opinion. Africa needs to stop blaming the West for their problems and do something about their own problems.
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2010
excelent link sepp, i have heard these ideas somewhere else but never seen them so graphically presented.

dachpy- i find what you've said about africa taking responsibility for her own destiny insulting. for your ingnoring the 100's of years of colonial dominance the west has inflicted there. your also ignoring the west's capiltalist subsidies for corperations that exploit the continent for its resources. if we hadn't have locked them into growing cash crops for our bloated lifestyles under the misnamed and exploitative free trade agreements then they would be able to feed themselves, but that would mean you an me don't get our nice cheap produce wouldn't it.
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2010
dachpy your post further validates my opinion that its you that doesn't take responsibility for your own actions and seeks to lay blame at others feet for the state of things.
if your leading a western style lifestyle then your in a priverliged position and able to lead that life becuase of the exploitative capitalist system thats in place, your posts about the reasons for climate change, and why africa is in poverty shows that you would rather ignore the real reasons for these things then own up to the part you play in these processes
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2010

I do not buy produce or products from Africa, and likely never will. Just thought I would give you another reason to falsely attack me on matters of which you know little to nothing. :)

Additionally, many Africans exploited Africans long before any whites got there. The slave trade was alive and well centuries before white man arrived on the scene.

If you were not aware of that, then I am sorry that you have not read enough accurate history to know the facts on the matter.

But, to clarify, I am speaking toward Africa's blaming the West for their desertification woes. You will in fact find that most poachers that kill off entire herds are African. They also are the ones setting fire to their own forests and grasslands. Take a trip there and do some research instead of credulously believing WWF and related claptrap.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.