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Page Updated: 25-Sep-2006
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Security issues of desertification in the Mediterranean region debated at NATO workshop

2-5 December 2003

06/06/2005 - NATO
NATO Security Through Science Series, Volume 3, 605p
02/02/2004 - NATO
Executive Summary of the Workshop by Kepner and Rubio
Desertification and Security:
Perspectives for the Mediterranean Region
Desertification in the Mediterranean Region:
A Security Issue
Desertification –  A New Security Challenge for the Mediterranean?
Collaboration in the Mediterranean Region
Water resources and security
26 Nov. 2003
Addressing new threats and challenges - Video interview with Deniz Yüksel-Beten
External website
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Security issues related to desertification in the Mediterranean region was the subject of a workshop, which took place in Valencia, Spain, on 2-5 December. Desertification is an issue widely debated among specialists, particularly within the framework of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). However, this NATO workshop presented the first opportunity for desertification in the Mediterranean region to be discussed in connection with security, and this novel approach attracted a large attendance, with 225 participants, and a correspondingly large number of contributed papers.

The opening address was given by Mr. Jean Fournet, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, in which he stressed the importance of combined action by scientists, policy-makers, members of governments and international organisations for a better understanding of the consequences of desertification for stability and security in the Mediterranean region.

Official delegations from all the Mediterranean Dialogue countries attended, and experts participated from the following NATO or NATO Partner countries - Albania, Armenia, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States. International organisations were also represented, including OSCE, European Union and FAO. Sponsored jointly by the NATO Science Committee and the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS), workshop organizers included the US Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Valencia, the UNCCD and the Desert Research Institute of the University of Nevada. The co-directors were Dr. Jose Rubio of the University of Valencia, Spain, and Dr. William Kepner of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Dr. Kepner gave a presentation in which he posed the question – How is desertification related to security? - and slides from this opening presentation are provided here, together with those from his closing presentation. Also provided are the extensive slides of Prof. Hans Guenther Brauch of Germany, whose presentation focused on possible security-related, pro-active strategies to prevent desertification issues posing security challenges.

Other contributions which were particularly relevant to the security issue came from Dr. Peter Liotta (US Naval War College) on the subject of Environmental and Human Security, which highlighted the “trigger mechanisms” that can unleash conflicts and create socio-economic disparity; and from Prof. Uriel Safriel of the University of Jerusalem who spoke about dryland development, desertification and security in the Mediterranean. The Executive Secretary of UNCCD, Ambassador H. A. Diallo also participated in the workshop and gave a far-reaching presentation on the social and economic consequences of desertification in different regions of the world.

The main points raised during a full three days of discussions were as follows:

  • Desertification is a common threat to the Mediterranean region. There is a need for a common understanding of the causes of desertification so that opportunities to develop international trans-boundary solutions to confront the desertification challenges can be found;
  • Desertification is not only a biophysical phenomenon but also has socio-economic and political implications. The concept of desertification is associated with land degradation, water scarcity and loss of productivity due to natural and human-induced causes;
  • Although countries of the Mediterranean region face similar desertification challenges, nevertheless differences exist, and particularly between the northern and southern parts of the region;
  • The main implications of desertification identified in Mediterranean countries were:
    1. Water crises in terms of quantity and quality of resources;
    2. Loss of fertile areas and reduction in food production;
    3. Drop in rural incomes and lack of opportunities.
  • Greater pressure on productive land causes an increase in migration of people within their own countries and to foreign countries, which eventually produces an imbalance between more populated urban areas and desertified areas;
  • Desertification can be seen as a break in the equilibrium between natural resources and the demands of a society.
In addition:
  • Economic damage from land degradation is very high;
  • Desertification is progressing in the Mediterranean region and is creating social conflict;
  • Droughts aggravate the situation and induce destabilisation in populations;
  • Farmers and herders thus compete for limited land and water resources;
  • Desertification increases conflict between grazing rights and ownership rights.
The experts who gathered in Valencia were among the leading authorities in this field, and the high-level discussions allowed for the direct involvement of experts and policy-makers of the Mediterranean Dialogue countries. The workshop was able to provide a better view and understanding of an environmental phenomenon that is likely to have serious consequences for human dynamics and security of societies. In addition, this network of experts on desertification is now available to assist NATO and other potentially interested parties, and it is hoped that they will provide a tool for future assessment of the situation and for further initiatives, which will contribute to a more stable and peaceful Mediterranean region.