The Northern Mediterranean region is a complex mosaic of diversified landscapes. It has been settled and cultivated for millennia by various cultures and civilizations. Much of the region is semi-arid and subject to seasonal droughts with high rainfall variability or sudden intense downpours. It is also marked by high population densities, heavy concentrations of industry, and intensive agriculture. Although people here often use the term “desert”, they do so in the sense of wilderness, lack of population, or isolation.
Mediterranean land degradation is often linked to poor agricultural practices. Soils become salinized, dry, sterile, and unproductive in response to a combination of natural hazards - droughts, floods, forest fires - and human-controlled activities, notably overtilling and overgrazing. The situation has been aggravated by the social and economic crisis in traditional agriculture in recent years and the resulting migration of people from rural to urban areas. The result is abandoned land, particularly on marginal and easily eroded hillsides, and weakened agricultural planning and land management.
The modern economy is also contributing to the problem. Fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, contamination by heavy metals, and the introduction of exotic (invasive) plant species is undermining the long-term health of the region‘s soils. Physical changes imposed on watercourses by the construction of reservoirs, the canalization of rivers, and the drainage of wetlands are affecting land quality. Meanwhile, groundwater levels are declining widely, resulting among other things in salt-water intrusion into coastal aquifers. Some 80 percent of the region‘s available freshwater is used for irrigation. The dramatic and continuing growth of industry, tourism, intensive agriculture, and other modern economic activities along the coastlines is placing particular stress on coastal areas.
Among the Northern Mediterranean affected country Parties, seven are members of the European Union. Thus the fourth regional implementation annex offers concrete opportunities for strengthening mutual cooperation and more effective national action. The European Community, France, Monaco and Israel are participating in the subregional and regional processes as observers.
A subregional group (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey) has already prepared the terms of reference and is and is the process of launching a Subregional Action Programme (SRAP). A regional consultative mechanism was established with the assistance of the UNCCD secretariat. At the regional level, activities are being undertaken particularly through the establishment of regional thematic networks for scientific cooperation, organization of workshop on technology and know how, development of mechanisms for exchanges of information and documentation and organization of regional training courses. In addition to intraregional cooperation, the Fourth Annex calls on its members to cooperate with other regions and subregions (Central and Eastern Europe for example), and particularly with the developing countries of Northern Africa.
The Annex also stimulates action at national level. As of August 2005, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Turkey adopted their National Action Programmes (NAPs) to combat desertification. Other affected countries from Northern Mediterranean are in the process of elaboration or finalization of their NAPs.
Desertification research is receiving a renewed emphasis. Dryland degradation has been studied for years in Africa and other regions, but less so in Europe. Fortunately, a number of research programmes are now assessing the impact of climate and weather on land and soil degradation in the region. EU members are also investing more in the systematic monitoring of land degradation, although there is still a need for better coordination of the collection, analysis, and exchange of data, including exchange of data with countries outside the EU. There is a need too for more technical and scientific cooperation on research into the causes of land degradation and on other desertification issues.
A number of other strategies also have great potential. It is widely recognized that one priority for the region should be protecting land that has not yet been significantly degraded. An effective and “integrated” approach to water management at the local, national, and regional levels needs to address simultaneously traditional and intensive agriculture, industry, employment, biodiversity, freshwater resources, water pollution, and the special problems of coastal areas. Synergies with other treaties should be exploited. Traditional knowledge and know-how need to be conserved and used. The development, adaptation, and transfer of anti-desertification technologies which are environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially acceptable can be more actively promoted. Finally, local communities and non-governmental organizations are being increasingly engaged.
Relevant parts of the Convention: Annex IV: Regional Implementation Annex for the Northern Mediterranean.