x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Living with the desert

When wet and dry nations meet in New York next week to discuss land management, they will have much to learn from each other.

To the people of Arabia, deserts are home. Bedouin culture was shaped by the beauty and conditions of an extreme environment. It poses a challenge that has of course changed with time, but the desert has always demanded more than other, more forgiving, terrains.

That is a lesson with which many have to come to terms. About a third of the world's arable land is now considered arid. Next week, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is opening talks in New York on an international approach on sustainable land use in arid environments. It is an issue not just for countries that are used to a dry climate, such as the UAE and indeed most of the Gulf, but for many countries that are facing new problems related to climate change and agricultural practices.

On every continent, desertification has seen historical agricultural practices become unsustainable, as top soil is lost, water tables are drained and a host of other factors affect farmlands.

It may be too much to hope for initial talks from a UN agency to have much of an effect, but there is much to be said for shared experiences. The UAE has much to offer, although there is fair criticism that desalination has allowed agriculture and a lifestyle out of sync with the climate. We all have to live within ecological limits, in the UAE and elsewhere.