Afforestation in the Near East
Growing trees in deserts to control desertification and improve water management
24 May 2004, Rome -- Countries in the Near East are showing increasing interest in planting trees to improve water quality and increase food security, FAO said today.
"Although forest cover is low, afforestation and green landscaping are gaining ground in the Near East, despite harsh climatic conditions," said Hosny El-Lakany, FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry.
"Planted trees not only help the region to have better quality water but trees serve as windbreaks and shelterbelts against desertification," he said.
Around 20 countries will discuss the role of forests in food and water security at the FAO Near East Forestry Commission (24-27 May) in Beirut.
Forests in the region
Forest cover in the region amounts to around 110 million hectares, equivalent to 5.9 percent of the land area.
Sudan accounts for more than half of the total forest area in the region. For all other countries, forests on the average account for less than 3 percent of the total land area.
FAO estimates that 8.3 million hectares are planted forests in the Near East. Iran and Turkey account for almost half of the total planted forests. Planted forests represent 5.5 percent of the region's total forest area.
Forests are important as a source of fuelwood and livestock fodder. Forests in the region also provide some 2 million cubic metres of wood products and more than $100 million worth of exported non-wood forest products such as gum arabic, cork, pistachios and honey.
Forests and water
Although trees consume water, they eventually contribute to watershed management, regulate water flows and serve as windbreaks and shelterbelts against sand encroachment.
In a region that is the most water scarce in the world with only around 2.2 percent of global renewable water resources, the sustainable management of forests is key to improving water security and alleviating poverty.
Countries in the Near East currently face an imminent shortage of water and the threat of deforestation as a result of agricultural expansion and urbanization.
The overall forest cover in the Near East declined by slightly less than 1 million hectares per annum in the last decade. Six countries of the region recorded a drop in forest cover.
Use of waste water
An increasing number of countries in the region, including Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, have begun using treated waste water to irrigate forest plantations and greenbelts.
Using treated waste water is essential given the water scarcity in the region. It is also low in cost and effective to dispose of water and to improve the quality of forest plantations.
FAO encourages such water use, which poses lower health risks and is socially and environmentally more acceptable than its use for agriculture.
Country representatives will share experiences and ideas in Beirut in using forestry to help meet the increasing demand for water in the region and to fight desertification through tree planting.
Information Officer, FAO
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