Water, agriculture and land usage experts from more than 15 Arab countries on Monday called for formulating a regional strategy to address water scarcity, land degradation and rising food prices.
During the Near East and North Africa (NENA) Land and Water Days, experts said that the NENA region is one of the most water scarce regions in the world, with fresh water per capita estimated at 10 per cent of the international average and projected to decrease by 50 per cent by 2050.
Land and water systems in the NENA region are critical, as 90 per cent of the region lies in arid or semi-arid areas, said Abdessalam OULD AHMED, FAO assistant general director and regional representative for the NENA Region.
"The availability of both land and water for agricultural production may have already reached its limits... fresh water per capita has decreased by two-thirds and stands to decrease by another 50 per cent during the next 40 years," Ould Ahmad said during the event.
Expansion of irrigated crops in the region, the highest in the world, is accompanied by depletion of underground water, increase in soil salinity, erosion and depletion of soil nutrients, he added.
"As the largest and constantly growing importer of basic foodstuff, the NENA region is more vulnerable than other regions to an increase in food prices, year-to-year prices volatility and possibly to access to food supplies," he noted.
The FAO official warned that water scarcity and land degradation in the region will have enormous negative consequences on food security.
Inappropriate land and water management practices have harmed the region's fragile natural resources, the experts said, noting that although countries have approved vast investments and made progress in tackling this challenge, actions are not yet commensurate with the magnitude of the problem.
The event seeks to find collaborative solutions for the improvement of agriculture, water management and food security in the region, according to organisers.
Agriculture Minister Akef Zu'bi said the NENA Land and Water Days is an opportunity for Arab countries to address water and land scarcity in the region, which is witnessing the effects of climate change and unprecedented pressure on natural resources due to population growth and changing consumption patterns.
Zu'bi highlighted the importance of efficient and sustainable management of land and transferring research outcomes and technologies to farmers.