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Water and
Desertification in the Arab Region

Cairo (Egypt), 17–18 April 1999

First Arab Conference

Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology


Conclusions and recommendations
1. Water resources
2. Drought : early warning system
3. International research centres
Policy recommendations

Introduction   Back to top

The present Conference was hosted by the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology with the collaboration of UNESCO, the National Water Research Centre, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and the Ministry of Higher Education. The Conference was seen as an important contribution to the process leading up to the World Conference on Science to be held in Budapest (Hungary) from 26 June to 1 July 1999.

The Conference reviewed a series of scientific and technical papers presented by experts and institutes from various Arab countries. The relationship between water deficit and desertification, and between availability of water and success in reclaiming desert land for ensuring food security, were principal themes of the Conference.

Conclusions and recommendations   Back to top

The participants agreed that freshwater issues will become extremely important in the 21st Century in general and in the Arab region in particular. The present use of water is clearly not sustainable. If humanity is to survive, a major paradigm shift towards integrated water resources management is needed.


The Conference recommends to the WCS:

  • that a strong emphasis be given in the WCS documents and Declaration to freshwater issues to which desertification is strongly linked
  • that the WCS recognize that water issues will become one of the most important issues of the 21st Century.


The Conference recommends to governments:

  • that they assign high priority to effectively dealing with water issues. This would, inter alia, require a major shift in funding water resources research and education at all levels.

Three proposals were endorsed:

1. Water resources   Back to top

Shortage of freshwater is a truly global problem, felt today in the regions of drylands including the Arab Region, and shall be felt tomorrow worldwide . National and regional collaborative research efforts should aim to :

  • improve the water resources assessment capabilities of countries,
  • intensify research for identifying additional freshwater resources including enhancing the volume of available freshwater from existing sources, i.e. run- off in wadies,
  • sustain, and improve where needed, the quality of both surface and ground waters,
  • ensure cooperation and equity among users at local, national, regional and global levels, and treatment and re-use of waste water promote integrated management, particularly in dry lands in deter overdrafting of water resources through appropriate demand management. The international science efforts, such as the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), need to be given additional support to deal effectively with water science issues on different scales.

Areas of scientific and technological advancement that need to be addressed should include investigations with respect to non-conventional technologies. In all these areas technological breakthroughs are required including the use of renewable sources of energy, re-cycling of water and protection of the environment

2. Drought : early warning system   Back to top

Recurrent drought is a natural hazard, as it relates to year-to-year variation in rainfall which is an inherent attribute of climate in arid regions. An early warning system for climate anomalies such as failure of rainfall (drought) or excessive rainfall (flooding) needs to be set up on an international basis, as it has to relate to teleconnections between distant climate regimes. Available studies indicate the likely relationship between the El Niņo Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena of the Southern Hemisphere and climatic anomalies in various parts of the world, the likely relationship between the North Atlantic climate and ocean phenomena and the climatic anomalies in the Indian Ocean and in the Mediterranean basin. An international facility could provide to all countries a regular flow of information relevant to climatic anomalies.

3. International research centres   Back to top

It is proposed, under the auspices of UNESCO and other relevant bodies, to establish a number of international research centres to be set in major eco-geographic regions of world drylands . Each centre will:

  • provide the countries of its region with technical and scientific assistance required for planning and implementation of national programmes of action, assist countries in their plans for capacity building including training of technical and management personnel,
  • carry out research programmes that aim to fill gaps in scientific and technological knowledge relevant to sustained development of land–and–water resources in drylands, and establish experimental fields and sites to test and demonstrate the application of the research results,
  • act as a clearing house for technical means of:

  • stabilizing sand bodies,
  • using low-quality water for irrigation,
  • introducing new species and varieties of species with a capacity to tolerate salinity and/or aridity,
  • using new and renewable sources of energy,
  • designing environmentally sound human settlements, etc.,
  • establish and operate a network of benchmark sites for monitoring and assessment of desertification; regional networks will be part of a world-wide system.

Policy recommendations:   Back to top

  • environment in general and water in particular should be a priority,
  • institutions: corporate research centres are needed,
  • Government funding should be increased,

environmental education programmes (for all levels) need to be aggressively developed under the leadership of UNESCO.

Contact:   Back to top
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