Desertification danger looms in MENA region

Land degradation affects the vast majority of our region.
Saturday 14/09/2019
A palm field suffering from desertification, near Morocco's southeastern oasis town of Erfoud. (AFP)
A palm field suffering from desertification, near Morocco's southeastern oasis town of Erfoud. (AFP)

New Delhi has been the site of a UN conference on the environment attended by representatives from most of the world’s countries. It is the latest in a seeming litany of climate-change gatherings that have dotted the international and diplomatic landscape since well before the Paris climate accord.

What set this one apart? Something that directly touches almost everyone in the MENA region: desertification.

Land degradation affects the vast majority of our region, the Arab Centre for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands said, and thus most MENA countries backed the UN Convention to Combat Desertification when it was established decades ago.

However, as more land becomes bereft of life across Africa and the Middle East, because of climate change and related factors such as deforestation, the United Nations warned that a rise in “climate refugees,” the disintegration of families and the threat of violent conflicts over dwindling resources could be just over the horizon.

Here, and elsewhere across certain latitudes, there can be no doubt that once-productive ground under our feet is getting hotter, drier and deadlier. The conference in New Delhi tackled practical measures that can be taken to salvage — and in some cases revitalise — the degraded resources that remain.

Attendees in India attempted to address the human cost. From more droughts to angrier land-rights disputes to dustier dust storms, they outlined a range of Plan Bs, all of which seem destined to become Plan As as worst-case scenarios seem to get grimmer by the day.

It’s an ongoing worldwide narrative. The human tendency for procrastination seems determined to doom our species but the often-maligned profit motive may be our saving grace, standing ready to inspire the world to unite for a common cause.

As just one of many examples, a report from the Global Commission on Adaptation pointed out that a decade’s worth of investing in efforts to help localities adapt to climate change would likely result in an almost fourfold return ($1.8 trillion would yield $7.1 trillion in economic benefits).

The desertification conference may not have revealed one “magic pill” to solve the global climate crisis but nearly 200 countries focusing on the same cause, and a cause that could help MENA avert untold disaster if successfully addressed, is clearly a step in the right direction.