Desertification is one of the most urgent ecological problems in the Arabian Peninsula and Asia.

According to research, drought and over-exploitation of natural resources are the main factors that cause desertification.

The inherent fragility of the arid ecosystem has aggravated the situation in the region, says a report published in the Journal of Faculty of Science of the UAE University.

The research was conducted by three scientists of the Centre for Environmental Remote Sensing at Chiba University in Japan, and the Centre on Problems of Ecology and Productivity of Forests at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

The scientists, Hussein Harahsheh, Ryutaro Tateishi and Nikolai Kharin, said the population growth in developing countries has been badly affecting their ecological situation.

"Loss of productivity in arid regions creates major environmental constraints for sustainable development. In this way, the problem of desertification has been transformed into a social and economic problem," they said.

Desertification is a global problem and drylands occupy about one third of the earth's surface. The UAE is also among the arid land countries on the Arabian Peninsula and has been engaged in the fight against desertification for the last many years.

The UAE faces problems in agriculture due to the scarcity of water resources and arable land. Another hurdle is the soil salinity due to which a large area of the country is not suitable for agriculture and considered as wasteland.

The country, however, has injected huge funds into agricultural development. Now, more than 35,584 farms are sprung in the UAE, covering 273,300 hectares, according to a report by Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry earlier this year.

The three scientists said in their report that the climate in the Middle East consists of long, intensive hot and dry summers and relatively mild and rainy winters.

"The distinctiveness of these two seasons defines the plant life and thus agriculture," they reported.

In this region, the scientists said, continued over-exploitation and overgrazing for prolonged periods has led to the depletion and exhaustion of pastures.

"Grazing is carried out with neither regard to the carrying capacity of the land nor any consideration to its future regeneration."

Degradation of forests is also a real problem in the Asian countries of the Middle East where only 5.7 per cent of the regional territory is covered with forests these days. The report further said waterlogging, salinity or alkalinity affects all irrigated areas in the Middle East.

The research highlighted the severity of the desertification problem in the region, but also acknowledged its contribution in development of irrigation agriculture. "This region is one of the cradles of human civilisation. Irrigation agriculture was developed here four or five millennia ago."

It however said desertification is the basis of the downfall of ancient empires in Mesopotamia.


Degradation of pastures
* Degradation of pastures due to over exploitation and overgrazing for prolonged periods.

* Apart from scarcity of water resources, soil salinity is aiding desertification.

* The researchers note that desertification also has contributed in the development of agriculture based on irrigation systems.