97% of Yemeni lands suffer desertification, says agriculture ministry [Archives:2008/1165/Local News]

June 19 2008

By: Ismail Al-Ghabri
SANA'A, June 18 ) The Agriculture and Irrigation Ministry's Forestation and Desertification Control Department, or FDCD, says desertification in Yemen is increasing and negatively impacting its desert, coastal and mountainous environments.

In this year's annual report, the department states that northeastern areas such as Hadramout, Al-Mahrah and Marib are affected by desertification, with sand dunes exceeding 100 meters high. These areas also have suffered erosion of water, particularly in 1996 when such erosion spread across the Empty Quarter.

According to the FDCD report, Yemen's southern coastline from Al-Mahrah in the east to Bab Al-Mandab Strait in the west and its western coastline between Bab Al-Mandab Strait and Hodeidah along the Red Sea, constantly are exposed to active sand movement, noting that such sands are even affecting homes, industrial complexes, farmlands, public highways and water sources.

The report confirmed that Yemen's coastline is being subjected to devastation due to water erosion, pointing out that even excessive pumping of water to grow agricultural crops negatively affects the coastline.

Desertification in Yemen has multiple types represented by the deterioration of its natural elements, negative impacts on rainforests, farmland production, surface and groundwater and animal life.

The FDCD report clarified that water and wind erosion are the two primary reasons for desertification, adding that the total area affected by both factors in the northern governorates is estimated at 3.63 million hectares.

Other areas estimated at 3.83 million hectares suffer effects caused by salty water.

According to official figures, nearly 97 percent of Yemeni lands suffer desertification, with the threat level varying from one area to another.

Nowadays, Yemen's environment is worsening more than in the past, particularly as the country's current population stands at 21.7 million, according to the 2004 general census. Such rapid population growth has increased human activities and maximized the usage of natural resources, thereby disturbing the balance between humans and the environment. Such discrepancies negatively impact water, soil, rainforests and farmlands. They've also led to slow development, mainly in rural areas, and helped desertification expand due to unwise exploitation of rainforests and grasslands, coupled with mismanagement of farmlands, according to the FDCD's report.

Convention to combat desertification

Yemen ratified the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification on Dec. 31, 1996, which aims to alleviate desertification and drought in various countries. The agreement stipulates that those countries suffering this phenomenon must take integrated and well-organized measures to contribute to sustainable development in desertification-affected areas.

FDCD Director General Saleh Al-Dhamiri says, “There are many activities to combat desertification in various Yemeni governorates, including planting windbreaks and shelterbelts.”

He continued, “Our department has an international plan to combat desertification. This plan, whose implementation will take up to 15 years, was developed in 2000 in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization.”

Al-Dhamiri points out that current efforts to combat desertification depend on the local budget, while no efforts have been made in those areas needing international financial assistance, adding that implementing the entire plan may cost as much as $24 million.

According to Al-Dhamiri, more than 250 million people in more than 100 countries suffer due to desertification. They are considered below the poverty line and among the poorest on earth. However, approximately 100 countries have signed a United Nations agreement to battle this problem.

Yemen depends on rainwater for agriculture

Yemen, which depends on rainwater for agriculture and where most agricultural areas experience only 250 millimeters of rainfall annually, is one of those countries establishing a national plan in 2004 to prevent desertification.

The Yemeni government and its international partners, represented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the FDCD, with the help of the U.N. desertification program, have inserted the concept of fighting desertification into numerous strategies, including Yemeni agricultural strategies, the national population strategy, the anti-poverty strategy and the national strategy.

However, looking at the number of agreements the Yemeni government and its partners have made and accomplished, a large portion have never been executed, according to a previous FDCD report listing the main reasons as being the non-implementation of policies intended to fight desertification, failure to assign duties to each government agency responsible, poor government performance and inability to communicate with regional and international programs concerned with desertification.