Desertification: More financial support needed [Archives:2007/1062/Health]

June 25 2007

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

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

Furthermore, the Yemeni government and its international partners, represented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the General Administration of Forests and Fighting Desertification, 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 made and accomplished by the government and its partners, a large portion never have been achieved, according to a report issued by the forest administration, which listed the main reasons for such failure as:

1. Lack of implementing rules and policies fighting desertification.

2. The organization's failure to divide and assign duties to each department or agency.

3. The poor job by various agencies to implement agreed points in the national fighting desertification plan.

4. The poor job organizing between involved departments.

5. Inability to communicate with regional and international programs.

6. Limited research and training programs in this field.

Ali Mohammed Al-Thameri, an engineer at the General Department of Forestry and Desertification Control, insists that the main factor in the weakness of the work done to fight the problem in Yemen is his department's scant financial support and economic resources to carry out the national plan to battle desertification.

“The plan is estimated at $24 million, whereas our annual budget doesn't exceed YR 8 million and doesn't fulfill the needs of the department and field work to problem areas,” he said, noting that, “The department's annual budget is only 1 percent of the ministry [of Agriculture]'s budget.”

According to the May 2006 report on implementation of the United Nations convention to combat desertification, in Yemen, this is caused directly by construction expansion on agricultural lands, wrong methods in land preservation , cutting down trees, dry weather conditions, low rainfall and both national and international emigration.

Indirect factors include additional and unorganized well drilling in unapproved locations, overpopulation and land pollution due to sewers and other pollutants.

The General Department of Agricultural Research conducted a 2006 study that revealed Yemen's total agricultural area as 455,502.47 sq. km., including 50,706 sq. km. experiencing water erosion, 5,781 sq. km. experiencing wind erosion, 127 sq. km. experiencing physical erosion and 389,179 sq. km. of unusable area.

Hassan Al-Gathi, owner of invested in agricultural land in Bajel area, in Hodidah goveronate , pointed to other reasons, saying, “A large portion of land has been affected by many reasons, such as farmers aren't able to expand their land, no instructions or care from the Ministry of Agriculture, diesel costs are too high and local farmers are unorganized in planting different kinds of crops. All of this leads to desertification.”

He believes that the least Yemeni farmers can do to control the problem is plant their lands, noting that planting certain crops like mango and palm trees “is surely a good way to stop desertification.” However, he said such crops take approximately four to five years to grow, so most Yemeni farmers don't plant crops whose economic incomes aren't obtained quickly.

Al-Gathi further criticized government efforts to combat the problem, saying, “They are very weak.”

Strategies and plans also should be applied, says engineer Ahmed Al-Attas, director of the General Department of Forestry and Desertification Control. He referred to the importance of improving his department's work by suggesting “changing the department into an independent national agency and increasing its financial resources so as to be able to carry out its plans and duties nationwide in the expected matter, both administratively and financially independent.”