Supporting land restoration and combatting desertification in the Arab region

June 5, 2024
Photo: UNDP Somalia

Ecosystems are threatened all over the world. Forests, drylands, and farmlands are threatened, and the species that live there as well.  

Drought is considered the major disaster occurring in the Arab region, where the total people affected between the years 1970-2009, by drought is about 38.09 million.  

According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, up to 40 per cent of the planet’s land is degraded, directly affecting half of the world’s population. The number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 per cent since 2000 – without urgent action, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world's population by 2050. 

One of the key pillars of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) is land restoration and it calls to protect and revive ecosystems all around the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Land degradation occurs across the globe due to climate change, including in moist areas where it is accompanied by forest degradation and deforestation. 

This year, the World Environment Day focuses on land restoration, halting desertification and building drought resilience with the theme “Land restoration, desertification and drought resilience” which is in alignment with the slogan of the UNCCD COP 16  “Our land. Our future.”  We are #GenerationRestoration.” 

UNDP supports sustainable land management and restoration by collaborating with partners to enhance livelihoods, secure food and water, and build resilience.  UNDP provides policy advisory services,capacity building and investment assistance to governments to implement sustainable solutions. 

Which countries in the Arab region are working to support land restoration and face land degradation? 


Iraq restoring the historic marshlands  

Photo: UNDP Iraq

Nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian Marshes are the largest wetlands in the Middle East and home to hundreds of diverse wildlife and thousands of vulnerable Iraqis whose see the beauty of their sacred home deteriorate daily. This historic area has been gravely affected by soaring temperatures and diminishing rainfall—intensifying droughts, water scarcity and has contributed to population displacement as marshland communities search for water for themselves and their livestock.  

UNDP Iraq is implementing a project to protect the historical homeland “Marshes” by encouraging laws and regulations that protect the endangered wildlife who call the marshes “home”. This project is funded by the Government of Canada and implemented under the leadership of the Center for Restoration of Iraqi Marshes & Wetlands at the Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq. 

The project’s critical activities are geared towards achieving restoration of the unique ecosystems and biological diversity of the country’s most renowned heritage site. 

Rehabilitating degraded land in Lebanon 

Photo: UNDP Lebanon

Land degradation has been flagged as a serious environmental problem in Lebanon, resulting in losses estimated at US$132 million yearly.  

Unsustainable growth is having a heavy toll on Lebanon’s natural resources with losses in forest cover, biodiversity and natural ecosystems, degradation of rangeland and desertification.

As a result, UNDP Lebanon in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and a fund from GEF is implementing a project “land degradation neutrality of mountain landscapes in Lebanon” that seeks land degradation neutrality in mountain lands by rehabilitating degraded land and preventing further degradation.

The rehabilitation practices applied are tested for technical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and benefits in the agriculture, mountain pastures and forestry sectors, the quarrying sector, and the eco-tourism and outdoor recreation sectors.   

The project is working on sustainable land management by integrating LDN principles for the first time into regional and local land use plans.

The project also developed new financing mechanisms for SLM/SFM based on international best practice and a knowledge management platform to facilitate sustainability, replication and up-scaling of the new practices leading to land degradation neutrality.

Facing drought in Somalia 

Photo: UNDP Somalia

Somalia is threatened by its worst drought in 40 years. Somalia faced an unprecedented drought and floods from 2021 to 2023, marked by five consecutive failed rainy seasons, impacting 7.8 million people—nearly half of the nation's population. Somalia grapples with an alarming deforestation rate of approximately 40,000 hectares per year leading to the annual felling of 5 million trees.

UNDP in Somalia has been working with partners, such as European Union, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Green Climate Fund (GCF) to empower communities and institutions to protect the environment, foster clean energy, and brace for climate change.  

UNDP supported the construction of reservoirs and dams across the country to improve access to water, address deforestation and desertification and build long term resilience to climate change. It has worked with the government to control land erosion exacerbated by environmental factors.  

Rehabilitating agricultural water wells 

Photo: UNDP Syria

Syria has been facing environmental challenges even before the crisis, from water scarcity and soil degradation to air pollution and insufficient waste management.  

UNDP in Syria rehabilitated five agricultural water wells in Deir ez-Zour rural area through the Funding Window supported project.  

Raneem is one of the fifty-four farmers who reclaimed their land and planted it again after the reduction in water salination. Crops were in abundance again and of high quality. Over 2000 men and women laborers now have a source of income harvesting farming lands. 

“Our plant’s growth rate and quality deteriorated, reducing our yield and leading to total crop failure. We were having difficulty in ploughing and harvesting because our farmland was waterlogged, and the soil was muddy. We were afraid of losing our land. It is our life and everything we own,” Raneem said. 

Protecting agricultural land in Yemen 

Photo: UNDP Yemen

Land erosion, desertification, flooding and delayed agricultural seasons have declined the cultivation of vital crops that hold nutritional value for the Yemeni population. 

UNDP Yemen with funding from the World Bank, has collaborated with the Public Works Project (PWP) to protect agricultural lands in Wadi Al-Barakani, Al-Ma’afer, Taiz.  

There are more than 20 hectares of agricultural lands in Al-Zaqoum. More than 16 hectares of threatened agricultural lands have been protected and an additional two hectares, where soil had been washed away in floods, have been restored through Yemen Food Security Response and Resilience Project (FSRRP). 

The project involved the construction of gabions spanning 800 meters to protect farms from torrential floods. These gabions, made up of carefully stacked stones wrapped in wires, ensure that water flows along agricultural lands – watering crops without damaging soil or plants. 

In Hodeidah Governorate, climate change has delivered a double blow to agriculture, with intense floods ravaging farmlands and scorching heatwaves decimating crops across Al-Sukhnah and Al-Mansouriyah districts. This devastating combination has further exacerbated the already dire food insecurity situation in the region. 

Sudden and significant climatic changes in Yemen are impeding food security efforts, largely due to flooding and torrential rains that have damaged so much land, as well as droughts-induced desertification. 

The Food Security Response and Resilience Project (FSRRP) collaborated with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) to construct water reservoirs in the villages of Belila and Al-Misbar, Al-Sukhnah District, Hodeidah Governorate to facilitate complementary irrigation and to provide water to livestock, as well as irrigation spillways to regulate and improve rainwater irrigation, ultimately contributing to improved livelihoods and food security.  

Way forward to combat desertification in the Arab region 

Photo: UNDP Somalia

Desertification, land degradation and drought remain a significant threat to the Arab region. Many people across the region are affected disproportionately by these threats through decreased agricultural yields, increased water scarcity, emerging health issues, and biodiversity loss. The importance of water management in response to these issues is pivotal to building resilience. 

2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will be held in Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from 2 to 13 December 2024.  This will be the first time in the thirty-year history of the Convention, that the COP will be held in the region. 

The UNCCD and the Government of Saudi Arabia will co-organize COP 16 conference. It is a great opportunity to bring experts from all over the world to think about implementing strategies and plans and put them into concrete actions to protect our land.  

Hosting the conference in the Arab region will be a great step to accelerate action to address pressing issues that are threatening people’s lives on the planet.  

Importantly this year marks another milestone as Conference of Parties will be held for the two other Rio Conventions, the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) will be held in Colombia in October, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Azerbaijan in November.  The UNCCD COP is strategically placed in December and this presents key opportunities to ensure synergies between the three Conventions to address the areas of drought, land degradation and desertification and build resilience. 

Partnerships are becoming crucial nowadays. Through collaborative partnerships, we will continue working to face the most daunting challenges and pave the way for a prosperous future to build forward better for the next generation #GenerationRestoration