Coming to Learn How the Desert Bloomed

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is this week hosting a major
international conference on combating desertification, with experts
coming to study Israel's successes in “making the desert bloom.”
The conference, entitled “Deserts and Desertification: Challenges and
Opportunities,” is sponsored by the Blaustein Institute of Desert
Research (BIDR), Ben-Gurion University, the United Nations Convention
to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
With the exception of several field tours into Israel's reclaimed and
existing desert areas, the daily lectures will be taking place on the
S'dei Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University. The conference is focusing
on how to confront and ameliorate factors leading to desertification,
with much emphasis on the Israeli experience and its lessons for other
The approximately 300 attendees hail from 20 countries spread over five
continents. Keynote speakers include: Amb. Hama Arba Diallo, Executive
Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification;
Dr. David A. Mouat, Chairman of the experts group of the UNCCD Desert
Research Institute in Reno, Nevada; Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder of the
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi,
India; Professor Wangarai Maathai, Deputy Minister of the Environment
of Kenya and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
The conference is part of international activities marking 2006 as the
International Year of Deserts and Desertification, as declared by the
United Nations. The UN designation was made in recognition of the acute
problem of desertification, or land degradation, worldwide.
Desertification, according to the BIDR's conference website, is
responsible for the loss of agricultural productivity, famine and
population displacement, as well as the escalation of poverty; it
affects about four hundred million people in developing regions,
especially in Africa.
Israel was selected as a unique and uniquely appropriate venue for the
desertification conference due to its rich history of rolling back the
desert through innovation and tenacity. When the state was established
in 1948, much of its semi-arid regions were degraded and the Negev
desert had expanded northward all the way to the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem
corridor. Since that time, a combination of intensive drylands
agriculture, afforestation and economic initiatives reclaimed tens of
thousands of hectares for farming, residential construction and
industrial parks.

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