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Declining water quality deals blow to agriculture

Dubai |By A Staff Reporter | 20-03-01

A scarcity of fresh water, deteriorating water quality and soil salinity are major factors limiting agricultural productivity and sustainability of natural resources, according to speakers at the opening ceremony of the International Symposium on Prospects of Saline Agriculture in the GCC Countries.

The ceremony was held at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and attended by Saeed bin Mohammed Al Raqabani, Minister of Agriculture; Dr Ahmed Mohammed Ali, President of Islamic Development Bank, and Dr Mohammed Al Attar, Director General of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture.

Globally, over 97 per cent of water is saline and the world loses six million hectares of land annually to desertification, affecting 20 per cent of the world population, largely from developing countries.

Fresh water in lakes, reservoirs and rivers amounts to 0.007 per cent of the total water bodies in the world. So there is a need to help build a dependable water system, especially for stressed areas, that allow them to suitably utilise the resources at hand. This is the key focus of the congress that will run until March 20.

Al Raqabani stressed the importance of the timely symposium during a critical period when the whole region is suffering from the lack of fresh water. He said that there is a demand for its conservation, for generations to come.

He said that the deliberations of the symposium will positively contribute towards finding alternatives for fresh water in agriculture and the wise use of saline water resources. Professor Adel El-Beltagy, Director General of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, based in Syria, said, "The world data on water resources indicates that the West Asia and North Africa, or the WANA region, faces the most serious threat of water shortages.

"It is projected that at least 19 WANA countries will reach the severe water poverty level by the year 2050. "In the GCC countries particularly, the water requirements will increase about two times in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar and about three times in the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen by the year 2030.

"Two thirds of the Arab population depends on water flowing from outside the Arab countries and about one-fourth lives in countries with no perennial surface water supplies. "Despite this scarcity, water continues to be misused. New technologies have provided tools that enable farmers to extract water with rates far in excess of the recharge.

"There are several options to deal with water scarcity. First we have to augment water availability through better management and increase water use efficiency, secondly exploiting non-conventional water resources and thirdly by policy reforms. "Community participation in addressing the problems is essential," he added.

The symposium has a host of guest speakers who will present research work on adapted plant types and water management systems, along with other measures to negotiate the issue of saline agriculture in GCC countries.

The event has been organised by the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Islamic Development Bank and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 20, 2001

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