The questions and answers contained in this section aim to facilitate the understanding of some of the key water management issues (challenges and responses) tackled in the framework of SWIM projects activities.
Click on the highlighted sections below to access specific information:

The questions and answers contained in this section aim to facilitate the understanding of some of the key water management issues (challenges and responses) tackled in the framework of SWIM projects activities.
Click on the highlighted sections below to access specific information:

How does climate change affects on desertification in general?

Desertification has been defined by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and in the International Convention on Desertification (United Nations Conventions to Combat Desertification – UNCCD) as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities". Desertification involves the depletion of vegetation and soils.


Climate change and desertification are linked in a vicious feedback loop. Climate change has the potential to reduce the availability of rainfall and its distribution i.e. rain will fall in larger quantities and in shorter periods of time and, eventually, in periods when it is less needed. This rainfall pattern will reduce the availability of water for wild vegetation while the temperatures’ increase – another consequence of climate change – will boost evapotranspiration and thus the water demand by the plant. All this can lead to the decay and death of vegetation and in the progressive soil loss due to its exposure to wind and other extreme climatic phenomena, such as floods.
Human activities, such as intensive agriculture, can exacerbate these conditions by increasing surface runoff and reducing percolation, and accordingly storage of water in ground aquifers. Increased surface runoff will increase soil loss through intensified erosion. In addition, the decay of vegetation results in the emission of greenhouse gases that, on their turn, will exacerbate climate change. Moreover, eroded lands will reduce land availability for carbon sequestration and thus the capacity to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Adaptation to Climate Change in the Water Sector in the MENA Region (ACCWaM)

Desertification in the Arab Region: analysis of current status and trends:



To what extent desertification arrived in the Arab region and what are the solutions proposed in light of the growing water shortage in our area?


In the Arab region, a high percentage of land is classified as desertified, prone and highly prone to desertification. Data, however, is not very accurate and exact. The percentage varies between 45% to 90%.

Although success stories and achievements in managing desertification have been documented in some of the Arab countries these are limited only to certain specific aspects and locations. Their importance is that they prove the technical feasibility of specific approaches, including improved irrigation and water management practices, animal husbandry technologies, reforestation of lands, fixing of shifting sands, conservation of biodiversity etc.

For example, at the level of the Demonstration component of the SWIM Programme,  two projects promote actions to challenge increasing water scarcity and desertification risks through adaptation activities, including by working: 1- on plant varieties tolerant to abiotic stresses with a set of locally-tailored land and water management techniques to conserve soil moisture, prevent erosion, fertility loss and salinisation, while ensuring the sustainability of the production (SWIM ACLIMAS project) and 2- on techniques to improve traditional water harvesting, reduce erosion, floods and improve ground water recharge in arid areas (SWIM WADIS-MAR). Although these projects work in selected target areas of South Mediterranean (Arabic) countries, their achievements are being widely disseminated to other countries in the Region in view of enhancing their possible replication.

On the other hand, SWIM-Support Mechanism – the component of the Programme SWIM mainly related to the provision of technical assistance to the Partner Countries through “soft” intervention (support to policies, capacity building etc.) has tackled desertification through capacity development on no-regret actions for adaptation to climate change and an assessment of drought events in the SWIM Partner Countries. This was based on the expressed need and demand received by these countries. Parallel activities by SWIM SM can also lead to combating desertification such as increasing irrigation efficiency through support to Water Users Associations (WUAs) and reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture with support to farmers. 

Despite many good examples and a great number of research results gathered so far it seems that there is still a lack of a collective and co-ordinated work at the level of the Arab Region to tackle in a comprehensive way the causes and impacts of desertification.

The Draft Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean and the Arab Water Security Strategy both have chapters on climate change.  The project entitled “Adapting to climate change in the water sector in the MENA region” is a project implemented under the Arab Strategy financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and executed by the Arab Ministerial Water Council (AMWC) of the League of Arab States (LAS) with the objective of building the capacity of national water institutions to develop and implement climate adaptation strategies. As mentioned on the website of GIZ: “The key factor for the success of the measure is strengthening regional governance in the water sector in accord with the LAS, its specialist institution the ACSAD, the ESCWA and the ministries responsible for water in the member states. In the first phase of the project (2011 to 2014) the Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese water ministries will be supported in formulating national adaptation strategies and in developing the necessary capacities. Priority will be given to policy advice, developing methods and instruments, and providing practical support to technical and institutional innovations for climate adaptation.

The project covers three areas:

1.            AMWC:  (Arab Ministerial Water Council) Given that it is necessary to develop the bases for planning and to create an enabling environment for adapting to climate change, awareness needs to be increased among the actors – in this case the AMWC – for regional vulnerabilities and the need for adaptation in the water sector. This should be reflected in the planning and implementation of regional and national policies.

2.            ESCWA: Networking and data and information management for adaptation will be promoted in cooperation with ESCWA. A knowledge platform will be set up by practitioners and academics in the countries in the MENA region and Europe, and it will make available up-to-date research results on climate models, the consequences of climate change and possible adaptation measures.

3.            ACSAD: The third area is part of the Arab Center for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD). The ‘technical arm’ of the LAS is responsible for operative implementation of the Arab Water Strategy and for establishing a Centre of Excellence for Climate Change in the Arab Region. The ACSAD will advise the AMWC when it comes to the comprehensive implementation and financing of climate adaptation measures in the LAS member states.

The EU has developed policies and strategies to combat desertification in the affected European countries. On a global scale, the EU in partnership with UNEP and further to interest by the UNCCD, is updating the world desertification Atlas. At the regional – South Mediterranean - level the EC has funded the project “Clima South: Support to Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in the ENPI  South Region” that aims to enhance regional cooperation between the EU and its southern Mediterranean neighbours and among the partner countries themselves (South–South) on climate change mitigation and adaptation, mainly through capacity development and information sharing. The overarching goal is to support the transition of ENP South countries towards low carbon development and climate resilience.

To this effect, the project will assist partner countries in formulating and implementing mitigation and adaptation policies and tools such as national adaptation strategies; low emission development strategies; National Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs); and Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)), in particular by developing greenhouse-gas inventories. It also aims to improve the access of decision-makers, officials, experts and civil society in the target countries to best practices and legislation developed in the EU, ENP South countries and other regions of the world, in the field of climate change”.

Several solutions are proposed for combating desertification by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and other organizations and are considered as best practices.  These are:

1.            Sustainable Land Management (SLM) technologies, including adaptation;

2.            Capacity-building and awareness-raising at various levels;

3.            Desertification, land degradation and drought, and SLM monitoring and assessment/research;

4.            Knowledge management and decision support;

5.            Adaptation of the policy, legislative and institutional framework to face desertification;

6.            Funding and resource mobilization; and

7.            Participation of affected populations, collaboration at the local, regional and global level and networking among stakeholders at different levels and scales.

The suggested actions by the UNCCD to combat desertification are summarized below:

1.            Increase population resilience through provision of alternative livelihoods, prevention of land degradation, provision of insurance schemes for small holder agriculture, supporting science driven agriculture, increasing awareness and developing supportive local institutional, and governance frameworks and empowering vulnerable groups.

2.            Improve land management through restoring and fertilizing land, practicing sustainable agriculture, managing grazing.

3.            Diversify production by mixing animal and plant production.

4.            Restore land by improving cropping and irrigation techniques and reforestation.

5.            Control erosion through construction of fences and barriers, planting soil fixing vegetation and prohibiting grazing.

6.            Use non-wood energy sources to reduce deforestation.

7.            Find alternative solutions such as no tillage

8.            Forge global partnerships to support financially and technically efforts towards combating desertification

Actions for combating desertification are set in National Actions Plans (NAPs) that contain assessments of the national situation as relates to desertification and land degradation and an action plan to combat desertification based on local conditions, available resources and knowledge. The use of indigenous knowledge in land management is encouraged. NAPs can be consulted or acquired at the relevant national authority which is the focal point of the UNCCD and which is in most cases either the Ministry of Environment or Agriculture.



Adaptation to Climate Change in the Water Sector in the MENA Region (ACCWaM)

Arab Water Security Strategy
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Desertification in the Arab Region: analysis of current status and trends:  

Sustainable Water Integrated Management - Adaptation to Climate Change of the Mediterranean Agricultural Systems (SWIM-ACLIMAS)

Sustainable Water Integrated Management - Water harvesting and Agricultural Techniques in Dry Lands: an Integrated and Sustainable Model in Maghreb Regions (SWIM-WADIS-MAR)  

Sustainable Water Integrated Management – Support Mechanism (SWIM-SM)   


Union for the Mediterranean – draft Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean (UfM, draft SWM)


What is the severity of the impact of desertification on food security in our region?

Desertification negatively affects the productivity of lands and their ability to feed populations. Increased desertification implies reduced food security. In the Arab World, continued desertification will lead to increases in food shortages and in the cost of food imports. As documented by FAO/RONE, 1994 the cost has increased from 4.8 billion US$ in 1980 to 23.3 billion US$ in 1990. The most affected crops will be grapes, olives and wheat as stated by the CIRCE project “Climate Change and Impact Research: The Mediterranean Environment”.


CIRCE Integrated Project: Climate Change and Impact Research: the Mediterranean Environment

Desertification in the Arab Region: analysis of current status and trends:


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