Chapter 3- Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation
 REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION
 CONTENTS | INTRODUCTION | ERA OF PEACE | FRAMEWORKS |  INFRASTRUCTURE | DESERTIFICATION | NATURE CONSERVATION | PARKS        
Chapter 3: Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation
 Chapter 3- Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation
      Introduction

Desertification refers to the degradation of natural resources in an ecosystem such as soil water, vegetation and wild life. Global climate changes as well as human intervention influence the rate at which desertification occurs or is averted. The dryland sub-regions in the East Mediterranean are characterized by intense sun radiation and the poor quality of water resources.

Economic development can accelerate the process of desertification if left unchecked. Construction of railroads, highways and airports can interfere with ground water sources and natural replenishment and adversely affect the existing agriculture upon which it depends. Intensification of agricultural production without proper attention to water allocation, preservation of water quality, and environmental pollution resulting from use of pesticides can harm both plant and animal life and limit the potential for long-tenn demographic development. Similarly, pollution from industry and mining activities may pose a threat to the ecosystem in the future. Sparse pastures may disappear entirely as a result of over-grazing.

The key to containing desertification while achieving sustained development and growth in the region lies in the ability to turn the ecological disadvantages of the drylands to economic advantage. Some primary examples include:

  • Development of closed irrigation systems;
  • Integration of flood-dependent production systems that build on rather than try to suppress floodpulse;
  • Introduction of water treatment and solar energy systems that exploit radiation and heat from the sun;
  • Cultivation of desert crops;
  • Afforestation programs;
  • Management of grazing lands;
  • Development of mariculture which exploits both sun and saline water for the cultivation of fish, seafood and algae.
  • Promotion of ecotourism based on annual bird migration and rehabilitation of endangered desert mammals to the area.

Since ecosystems rarely recognize political boundaries, cooperation is mandatory if the problem of desertification is to be addressed. Many countries in the region operate climactic and geological research stations, as well as facilities for monitoring ground erosion, floods, brackish and geothermal water sources, agriculture under differing ground conditions, etc.

1. Combating Desertification Middle-East Sub-Regional Joint Study

The Interim Secretariat of the Convention for Combating Desertification (INCD) has prepared the Terms of Reference for the Middle East Sub-Regional Joint Study, which provides the conceptual framework. Following a meeting of the Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian teams in August 1995, a work plan was agreed upon.

1.1 Project goal and components of the Action Program

The goal of the project is to produce outlines for a three phase 15 year Action Program for averting risks of desertification in the Sub-region. The Action Program comprises the following components:

Proposals for preparation of an environment data base for the Sub-region

Proposal for preparation of outlines and instructions to assess potential desertification risks
(Environment Impact Assessment document related to desertification)

The following issues are to be assessed in terms of risk: existing land uses and currently running development projects future programs, plans and projects

Proposals for and prioritization of joint ventures

Relevant areas for joint ventures include:

  • desertification control, mutual extension and exchange;
  • agriculture – mutual extension and exchange;
  • conservation of nature and rangeland – mutual extension and exchange, international biosphere reserves, networking;
  • ecotourism – integrated packages.

Proposals for joint research

Joint research will be determined by gaps in desertification-related knowledge.

Proposals for networked monitoring schemes

Schemes to be addressed are:

  • desertification indicators;
  • indicators of program success, to assess the project.

1.2 Program management

Management aspects to be addressed are:

  • costs
  • funding sources
  • fund-raising mechanisms
  • overseeing mechanisms and institutions.

1.3 Phase 1 – Detailed plan

Phase 1 covers data collection and desertification risk assessment. The remaining components of the Action Program will be carried out during Phase 2, the data evaluation phase.

Preparation of environmental data base

Information will be collected on the availability of the following:

  • soil maps
  • maps of natural resources
  • hydrological, watersheds and water source maps
  • rainfall data
  • potential evapotranspiration-related data
  • vegetation maps
  • biodiversity and wildlife data
  • socio-economic data
  • legislation.

For each of the above items, the following annotations will be provided:

  • sources and their accessibility
  • degree of coverage within the Sub-region
  • scales
  • languages (English, Arabic, Hebrew)
  • recording technologies, computerization.

Preparation of Directory of Institutions and Experts

Each listing will contain the following information:

  • name
  • function/objectives, expertise
  • location
  • address (including telephone, fax, E-mail)
  • contact persons.

Activities for the preparation of instructions for assessing potential desertification risks of current and future land uses

Information will be collected on the availability of data on the following:

  • agriculture – crop types, geographical location, dimensions; water requirements; pesticide and fertilizer use
  • livestock – animals types; management practices
  • transportation lines – roads, railway lines, power lines, canals industry tourism
  • urbanization, settlements – waste disposal, solid and fluid; demographic and socio-economic trends
  • conservation, protected area – legislation and land ownership; management other land uses (military, etc.) existing and potential interactions between each of the above.

For each of the above items, distinctions will be made regarding existing land use or operating project, and future land use, plan or project. Sources of information will be collected with respect to evident signs of desertification and potential risks of desertification.

The needs of people will be assessed by interviewing local people of different socio-economic groups and genders, and local authorities.

   
 Chapter 3- Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation
 Chapter 3- Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation

Precipitation in the Middle East and South East Mediterranean

  2. Regional Database and Research on Desertification

Creation of a regional network to collect data and conduct research could prove beneficial in combating desertification in the Arava and other drylands in the Middle East/ East Mediterranean region. A framework which would facilitate the exchange of know-how and foster cooperation in conducting surveys that would benefit all parties in the region can be developed. Joint research facilities can be established which would house activities of researchers from all countries in the region. Analysis of this research will enable more efficient planning of the region’s economic development. A prerequisite for cooperation on this level is that the disparities of expertise that exist among the cooperating countries be narrowed and ultimately abolished.

Most of the Middle East/ East Mediterranean region can be characterized as Saharo-Arabian geobotanical system, in which average annual rainfall tends to fall short of 200 mm. The extension of this desert strip due to resource degradation is a salient problem for many, if not most of the region’s countries.

Resource degradation is related in part to agrarian water management. The key to containing desertification while achieving sustained development and growth in the region lies in the ability to turn the ecological disadvantages of the drylands to economic advantage. Some primary examples include:

  • Development of closed irrigation systems
  • Integration of flood-dependent production systems that build on rather than try to suppress floodpulse;
  • Introduction of water treatment and solar energy systems that exploit radiation and heat from the sun;
  • Cultivation of desert crops.

Other methods of desertification prevention can be identified:

  • Afforestation programs.
  • Management of grazing lands designed to improve their quality and prevent soil degradation.
  • Aquacultural production which exploits both sun and saline water for cultivation of organisms suited to such an environment.
  • Promotion of ecotourism based on annual bird migration and rehabilitation of endangered desert mammals to the area.

Since ecosystems rarely recognize political boundaries, cooperation is a sine qua non if the problem of desertification is to be addressed. Many countries in the region operate climatic and geological research stations, as well as facilities for monitoring ground erosion, floods, brackish and geothermal water sources, agriculture under differing ground conditions, etc.

It is proposed that a joint regional study be conducted, encompassing the various subjects relating to desertification in an attempt to formulate policies designed to address this problem. Joint investment projects that extend beyond research and policy planning can be identified and initiated by the various parties sharing a common ecological subsystem. Opportunities for intra-regional cooperation exist in areas such as desert landscaping and afforestation, desert agriculture and ranching.

It is estimated that $40 million will be required annually for the next

ten years to finance joint development projects in the field of the prevention of natural resource degradation.

   
 Chapter 3- Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation
 Chapter 3- Combating Desertification and Desert Rehabilitation

Agricultural Regions in the Middle East and South-East Mediterranean

  2.1 An International Center for Combating Desertification

Large areas of the East Mediterranean Basin are semi-arid to and lands. Significant sectors of the population inhabiting these areas earn livelihoods from agriculture. Considerable know-how and practical experience have been accumulated in the region concerning agricultural production in and regions. Until now, most agricultural R&ampD has been conducted by individual scientists from geographically distant countries. Consequently, efforts to solve similar problems were commonly duplicated or limited by the amount of scientific manpower and resources available in each country. A regional center for collaborative research, training and technology exchange would facilitate progress in agricultural R&ampD and related fields.

Such a center has been proposed in the Negev Desert in Israel, which will serve as a base for a broad spectrum of activities relating to shared problems evolving from semi-arid and arid climate conditions. It will be equipped with classrooms and meeting rooms, research laboratories, greenhouses and research plots, computer and telecommunications equipment and dormitories. Most of the center’s personnel will be initially drawn from Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli scientists, graduate students and technical trainees. Participation of associates from other Mediterranean countries will be promoted and given high priority.

Collaborative research activities can include:

  • crop science – crop production in semiarid zones, post harvest storage and physiology, genetic improvement of cultivated species, introduction and selection of new species for semiarid zones, plant adaptation to environmental stress, influence of stress on the activity of plant cellular and sub-cellular systems.
  • rangeland and forest management – establishment of year-round pasture by introduction of drought resistant perennial shrubs and herbaceous species, pasture resources management, reforestation with multi-purpose tree species.
  • closed systems agriculture – development of greenhouse technologies appropriate to and zone conditions, including environmental optimization, water and nutrient recycling and adaptation of technologies and nutrient regimes to specific crops.
  • animal husbandry – physiological response of desert animals, livestock production in the desert, energy and water budgets of desert animals, reproduction and endocrinology, veterinary medicine.
  • creation and management of water resources – runoff agriculture, use of brackish and saline water resources in agriculture and forestry, microbial treatment of wastewater reservoirs and polluted aquifers
  • application of satellite mediated remote sensing technology – use of this technology to evaluate change in climatic environment, water quality, plant, animal and human population dispersion.
  • alternative production systems for and lands – utilization of brackish water sources, protective structures and environmental controls to produce alternative crops, such as fish, algae, and out-of-season glasshouse crops.
  • ecological consideration of dynamic and and semi-arid regions – effects of man-made and natural disturbances on flora and fauna, development of regional ecotourism
  • studies of nomadic desert societies – the sociological problems and dynamics of conventional nomadic societies and of nomadic groups in transition to village life; sustainable development in and lands, resource management and planning for drought.
  • architectural systems – settlement planning and shelter design for and and semi-arid zone communities.

3. Savanization

The sparse planting of trees, a method referred to as "Savanization", is currently considered to be an effective way to prevent land degradation in semi-arid ranges. Trees reduce soil erosion. Leguminous trees may add nutrients to the soil, and they furnish needed shade for small grazing animals.

A research and development program is needed to evaluate the improvement of semi-arid rangelands through the planting of various tree species at varying densities. Long-term plant introduction activity to identify the most suitable tree species for each particular environment is equally essential.

4. Afforestation, Desert Landscaping and Gardening with Drought and Salt-resistant plants

Arid eco-systems of the world can support plants with minimum water requirements, that are drought and salt tolerant, for use in afforestation, landscaping and gardening projects. The ability to create water-efficient gardens not only contributes to the quality of life for individuals but is crucial for municipalities, villages and other authorities who desire to create public spaces in desert areas less harsh than the prevailing environment.

Knowledge of and access to appropriate plant material is also an important consideration in the implementation of tourism projects in desert areas – such as the Dead Sea, Eilat and Aqaba and the Sinai Peninsula.

Research is required into the following areas:

  • Establishment of plant introduction plots in various climatic zones of the Middle East/ East Mediterranean region
  • Collection and evaluation of additional drought and salt tolerant species;
  • Definition of management practices;
  • Identification and experimentation with salt tolerant species to utilize saline soils and water.

4.1 Study on drylands investment potential

This study is an initiative of the Interim Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification. It focuses on identifying products for potential commercial exploitation in desert regions in the hope of more directly involving the private sector in anti-desertification activities. The study will review options of private investment in drylands and will identify potential commercial ventures and their expected impact.

Biodiversity and leisure services products can be produced for both local consumption and export. Investment opportunities could attract investors rather than donors and would contribute either directly or indirectly to reverting population marginalization and poverty trends in drylands which contributed to man-made desertification in these areas. A study of this sort serves as an example in which the public sector actively encourages private sector-led growth.

The study would concentrate on identifying two main areas of potential private sector development:

  • products based on desert biodiversity components characteristic of dryland ecosystems. These components include: willed relatives of cultivated plants, species of pharmaceutical, industrial, agricultural or agri-industrial value, peripheral populations of species which can be used for rehabilitating regions affected by climate change, and biological components that can be used for environmental engineering.
  • leisure services development for tourism and eco-tourism. Leisure activities can be associated with the commercial exploitation of local fauna and flora and the protection of and lands biodiversity.

Since the project is relevant to many areas dispersed throughout the Middle East/East Mediterranean, it could be organized as a multilateral research effort. Estimated required budget for a thirteen month project (total 36 man-months) is approximately $ 230,000.

5. Integrated Agropastoral Production Systems<

Agropastoral systems that produce both small grain crops and sheep or goat animal products in an integrated management framework have been the subject of research and development in Israel in recent years. These production systems can extend to the region as a whole.

A broad program of research and development, which would encompass primary production potential, secondary production potential, management at the farm level, and regional development, can be devised. Cooperation among countries would serve to enhance the empirical base and development opportunities.

The overall orientation would be toward the relatively rapid generation and assessment of technologies with strong emphasis on integrating ecology, management and marketing in a systems approach to agro-pastural production.

6. Joint Israeli-Jordanian agricultural farm in the "Zofar/Al Ghamr" special regime area

It is proposed that a joint Israeli-Jordanian farm be established, where joint research into areas of mutual interest will be conducted by the two parties. The farm will encompass the following:

  1. Raising animals, turkeys and a dairy
  2. Marine agriculture
  3. Joint transit station for produce to be marketed in the Gulf states, including storage areas, cold storage facilities, quality control, etc.
  4. Advanced study center – for advanced studies in new agricultural fields.

Both the center and the station can serve advanced study participants from all the Arab states, and can provide an opportunity to study the use of sophisticated equipment both in marine agriculture farms and in advanced climatic hothouses.

7. Jojoba – an Industrial Crop for Arid Zones

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinenesis) is a bush native to the Sonoran Desert of Northern Mexico/Southwest U.S. Its seed contains a high quality liquid wax usually referred to as jojoba oil. Jojoba oil has a number of industrial uses – particularly as a lubricant in high pressure machinery, and in cosmetics.

Evaluation of varieties, improved knowledge of nutrient requirements and the formulation of sophisticated products based on jojoba oil are but a few of the areas for potential collaborative research.

8. Argan – a Potential New Tree Crop for Desert Areas

The argan tree (Argania spinosa) is another crop suited to arid environments, high radiation and relatively saline soil conditions. It is native to Morocco. Oil from the fruit is 80% polyunsaturated and essential in the local diet. It can also be used extensively in cosmetics and fuel lamps. The ripe berries are sun dried and the pulp used as feed for sheep and goats.

Introduction plots were established at four sites in the Negev in 1985 each with somewhat different climatic, water and soil qualities. It is suggested that such plots be established in other desert sites in the region (Sinai, Jordan, etc.). The general health of the trees – height, trunk circumference, vegetative development – is good to outstanding at all sites. Cultivars of superior yields were identified and the first semi-commercial plot has been planted.

9. Utilization of the Saline Water Aquifers of the Saharan and Middle East Deserts

A series of aquifers containing substantial quantities of water of varying salinity levels, underlie the area from Morocco in the west to Saudi Arabia in the east. In the Negev desert in Israel salinity levels range between 3000-6000 parts per million of total dissolved solids.

Learning how to use saline water for irrigation is a challenge. Major crops that are today irrigated with saline water include cotton, wheat, corn, table tomatoes, and melons. A number of secondary crops are grown with saline water as well. Research currently focuses on Bermuda grass, potatoes, grapes and olives.

Future research is required into the following aspects:

  1. Screening of additional crops for salt tolerance
  2. Breeding and selection for salt tolerance
  3. Development of management procedures specific for each particular crop
  4. Physiological studies to better understand mechanisms of salt tolerance in crop plants.

10. Sand Dune Stabilization

The large sand dunes hemming much of the eastern Mediterranean coastal rim are one of the most impressive ecological elements of this part of the basin. At the same time, vast amounts of sand scattered by high-velocity winds can cause problems to both agrarian and urban settlements. Treated waste water from adjacent urban centers can be used to cultivate certain dune sites in a way which will not only impede dune mobility but will contribute to the reclamation of grazing areas.

11. Clearing the Arava of the Mediterranean fly

Over the past 20 years, many countries around the world have developed national or regional systems to fight this pest, considered the worst fruit pest. The objective of these systems is to clear areas by using a combination of various approaches, primarily "birth control" by releasing sterile males. Projects of these kinds are in effect in California, Mexico, Guatemala and Argentina. The IAEA is the main sponsor in the planning and operation of these programs. Recently a wide-ranging program has been prepared for ridding the Mahgreb region (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya) of the pest.

In the Arava, since 1990, eradication and land monitoring measures have been in existance in Moshav Paran. In 1994, Moshav Paran was declared fly-free by the US authorities, and its produce received a permit for export to the US.

In May 1994, the IAEA called a meeting of experts to discuss the possibility of eradicating the pest in the Mediterranean region – Israel, the PA, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. The region was sub-divided into several subregions, and a board was to have been established to oversee the implementation of the activities and to make decisions regarding timetable and budget. In addition, it was agreed that a pilot test would be conducted in the Arava from Eilat to the southern Dead Sea region.

Implementation stages

The project would be conducted in four stages over a four-year period:

  • Stage 1 – Preparation stage
  • Stage 2 – Eradication stage
  • Stage 3 – Post-eradication stage
  • Stage 4 – Year long clean-up stage

The project would be conducted in three zones:

  • Residential zone
  • Commerical zone – agricultural cultivation zone
  • Other areas

Type of activites to be conducted

  • Training professional staff
  • Publicity
  • Data management and coordination
  • R&D
  • Capturing
  • Fruit samples in the urban area
  • Eradication in urban areas
  • Bait extermination
  • Dispersing sterile males
  • Quarantine
  • Management
  • Emergency plan should the fly reappear.

12. Joint Camel Ranch

In view of the considerable skilled manpower and the expertise and know-how in camel physiology, raising and veterinary requirements in the region, and the large indigenous camel population which constitutes a rich gene bank, it may be feasible to establish a joint camel ranch for the breeding and raising of camels for the following uses:

  • Camels for riding, mainly for tourism objectives
  • Camels for racing, a popular sport both in Arab countries and the Middle East/ East Mediterranean region, which can also serve as a tourist attraction
  • Camels for dairy purposes – camel milk is rich in vitamins and antibiotic components and is used both for human consumption and in cosmetic products.

13. Cooperative Israeli-Jordanian Mariculture Development Program

In view of the growing global demand for seafood and the diminishing supply, marine fanning (mariculture) offers a realistic option to meet the market demands. Mariculture development has special importance for desert regions, since it is based on the exploitation of seawater rather than scarce freshwater sources.

The environmental characteristics of the Gulf of Aqaba are favorable for maricultural development. The Gulf is extremely clean with relatively high surface temperatures and high solar radiation. In addition, vast areas of undeveloped non-arable land surround the Gulf, facilitating the development of on-shore seawater culture systems.

Maricultural development can contribute to the economies of the desert areas of Jordan, Israel and Egypt adjacent to the Gulf of Aqaba. Benefits may include:

  • Provision of a new source of high quality food for both local consumption and export;
  • Creation of employment opportunities;
  • Introduction of support industries such as feed mills, packing plants, equipment manufacturing and shipping facilities;
  • Extension of the project to other regions where desert areas bordering the sea could enhance scientific, technological and economic cooperation between participating countries.

The joint Israeli-Jordanian project, which could be extended to include Egypt as well, involves:

  • developing farming technologies for marine fish, mollusks, crustaceans and algae endemic to the Gulf of Aqaba region, taking into account local environmental conditions and the needs of the participating countries;
  • developing technologies for the protection of the Gulf against possible adverse effects of mariculture development;
  • conducting joint training and educational programs relevant to mariculture development;
  • evaluating the potential contribution of mariculture to socioeconomic development in the participating countries;
  • considering and implementing options for regional economic cooperation based on the mariculture technologies developed.

14. Development, Protection and Management of the Living Resources of the Gulf of Aqaba

This project was submitted to the U.S. Agency for International Development as a collaborative project between oceanographic institutes in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the United States.

The primary objectives of the project are:

  • to determine the impact of human activities on the coral reef ecosystem;
  • to develop a sound environmental program for the Gulf of Aqaba;
  • to develop mariculture in the desert areas bordering the Gulf.

The project entails conducting multidisciplinary oceanographic investigations of the Gulf to provide decision makers with background information and data needed for proper assessment and conservation of the coral reefs. This includes producing a series of computer models describing the general circulation patterns of water, studying eutrophication processes resulting from anthropogenic input of nutrients from various sources, and employing planktonic organisms as warning signals of anthropogenic influence. It will also include research on the nutrient distribution along the Gulf of Aqaba and its impact on the coral reef community. In addition, the project endeavors to develop fanning technology for marine organisms including fish, molluscs, crustacea and algae.

The project steering committee includes representatives from the United States, Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

A total estimated budget of $3.6 million is required for implementation of this three year project. Approximately 57% of these funds are slated for procurement of equipment and instruments as well as the construction of research facilities in Egypt and Jordan.

This section is partially based on material prepared by: Prof. Avishai Braverman, Mr. Mordechai Cohen (Kedmon), Dr. Yuval Cohen, Mr. Shaike Erez, Mr. Yaakov Laks, Prof. Uriel Safriel and Dr. Ariel Ulman.