In a speech marking the international day for combating desertification, which falls tomorrow, Minister of Agriculture and Water Dr. Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Bin Muammar spoke of desertification as one of the most serious environmental problems, with its negative impact on food sources, human health, and people's way of life. Saudi Arabia, he said, has been concerned about the problem since the early 1960s, contributing regularly to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), providing soft loans to developing countries, and extending assistance to them in times of natural disasters and emergencies. The Kingdom is a signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification of June 17, 1994.
Saudi Arabia, Dr. Muammar explained, lies within the globe's desert zone. Aware of the hazards of urbanization, unplanned pastureland, and tree-felling that exacerbate the problem of desertification, the Kingdom has taken measures over the past thirty years to preserve the country's natural environment, such as monitoring changes, conducting research and training, developing water resources, preventing the creeping of sand dunes, and expanding green open spaces. Although there are climatic elements, including lack of rainfall and high temperatures, drought is only part of the phenomenon of desertification, since there is no evidence of any fundamental climate change in the Arabian Peninsula. The major reason for desertification is the increase in human activities, such as intensified exploitation of agricultural land, irrational management of resources, misguided use of pasture, and haphazard irrigation.
Quoting figures on desertification, Dr. Muammar reported that the world annually loses 24 billion tons of surface soil; and that desertification is affecting about 70 percent of agricultural land in 110 countries worldwide, 2.5 billion hectares of it in Asia and Africa. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the global financial loss from desertification amounts to U.S. $ 4 billion each year. Food sources for one-sixth of the world's population are endangered, and nearly 135 million people face the threat of displacement in search of food resources.