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Mangroves hold out hope for dry, arid regions.

By Dr Benno Boer Miguel ClE-sener-Godt, Anil Mishra (Unesco)

Unesco has been invited by the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) to develop one of the three themes for an International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands, which began yesterday and concludes today under the auspices of the HH the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, at Qatar University.

QNFSP is hosting the event in partnership with IFAD, the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and a number of other international organisations and academic institutions. Unesco's theme will be water security for food security, and the session aims to underline how water security relates to ecosystem management.

Unesco has a significant capacity and role to play for food security, mainly based on its mandate in the ecological and hydrological sciences.

Two-thirds of the world's population could be living in water-stressed countries by 2025 if current consumption patterns continue (UN World Water Report 2012). Securing access to safe drinking water for all and wisely managing our limited freshwater resources are therefore high priorities on the sustainable development agenda.

In dry hot desert countries the situation is even more accentuated, due to the prevailing climatic conditions with low and irregular precipitation rates, and extremely high evaporation rates, accelerated by ground-water exploitation exceeding the replenishment. One of the dry desert countries suffering severely from water-security risks is Yemen, which is exposed to an impending water crisis which might turn into an acute crisis as soon as 2015.

Issues related to water security in dry deserts are numerous, including availability, costs, loss, demand, salinisation, desalinisation, waste-water-recycling, water and ecosystem nexus, water and energy nexus, capacity building, conservation, storage, awareness, research and many other important subjects.

These issues, including economic diversification to reduce reliance on freshwater resources, are addressed by the Unesco Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and Unesco's International Hydrological Programme (IHP).

Concerning the production of food and fodder, desert and semi-desert countries in Arab Dry Lands have a high potential for the development of mangrove ecosystems. The whole Middle East region has some of the most arid coastlines in the world. Only very few rivers reach the sea and mangroves are limited to lagoons and tidal creeks.

However, mangroves have a high ecological value, as in some areas they are the only trees that occur. They offer unique opportunities for foraging for livestock and nesting place for birds. Moreover, mangroves ecosystems are the nursery for many pelagic organisms, which are at the beginning of the food chain in coastal waters.

Many crab and fish species have their origin in these areas. Mangroves are also used as a feeding ground for goats and camels and for fire wood. Fishing, collection of shells and other uses are frequently reported. They are also in some areas nesting grounds for sea turtles and other large animals. Mangroves have also very important scenic and aesthetic functions and are widely used for recreational purposes, such as nature tourism and recreational boating. They also offer protection against tsunamis.

It is in this context that Unesco's Man and the Biosphere Programme (Unesco/MAB), produced The Nature Conservancy (TNS), the World Atlas of Mangroves in three languages, English, French and Spanish. This was in co-operation with the World Timber Trade Organisation (ITTO), the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems (ISME), the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Environmental Programme and its World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP/WCMC), the United Nations University International Network for Water, Environment and Health (UNU/INWEH).

This Atlas provides a world-wide overview of the distribution of mangroves ecosystems. In fact, mangroves are found in 123 countries and cover a total area of 152,000sqkm. A total number of 73 species is given as well as total above-ground biomass of over 3700 Teragrams (Tg) of carbon with a sequestration rate for carbon in the range of 14-17 Tg per year (Source World Mangrove Atlas 2010).

As there is a growing need in the world to enhance food and non-food-production for human use, mangroves play an important role in this context. Wood products including fuel wood, tannins and roofing products. Many mangrove species produce fruits and honey for food and many leaves can be used for herbal teas. Finally it is worthwhile to mention the very important role of mangroves in biofiltration, which enable mangroves to remove excess nutrients and other pollutants from the soil.

However, mangroves are under constant threat due to land-use for agricultural purposes, over-exploitation for aquaculture, overfishing and over-harvesting. Pollution, sedimentation and alteration of flow regimes are direct threats with sometimes dramatic consequences.

Therefore, urgent action is needed to establish sustainable management schemes for mangrove ecosystems all over the world, including in dry Arab lands. Restoration, afforestation and flow restoration are crucial for their survival. Mangroves figure among the most productive ecosystems in the world and provide a large array of plant and animal products for human beings.

The QNFSP conference with a G-WADI side event (Water and Development Information for Arid Lands -- A Global Network) can address some of the most pressing issues, and raise awareness, offer a few solutions, and connect people.

Unesco's G-WADI programme was launched to strengthen the global capacity to manage water resources of arid and semi-arid areas. Its primary aim has been to build an effective global community through the integration of material from networks, centres, organisations and individuals who would become members of G-WADI. In fact, strengthening the capacity to manage the water resources of arid and semi-arid areas through the established G-WADI network remained one of the priorities of IHP VII (2008-2013) 'Water Dependencies: Systems under Stress and Societal Responses'.

G-WADI acts as a demand-driven filter of scientific and management information, aiming to improve understanding of water in arid regions for non-specialists. It also promotes initiatives that support holistic water management for human consumption, food production, socio-economic development and ecosystem services.

As a capacity building programme, G-WADI provides information, training, and networking opportunities for developing countries to benefit from state-of-the-art hydrological sciences and information developed within the framework of IHP. G-WADI also provides access to global satellite estimates of precipitation at high spatial and temporal resolutions that are relevant to the monitoring of precipitation input, especially important in basins and aquifers in areas where ground observation networks are lacking. The website contains applications and tools for water resource managers that can improve flood forecasting and warning, as well as drought monitoring.

The aim of the G-WADI session is to share and discuss science and policy issues with decision makers and stakeholders. The session will also discuss the role of the G-WADI in strengthening the capacity to manage water resources in the region.

In order to allow for a more comprehensive approach and long-lasting impact, a peer-reviewed multi-lingual book publication is being planned. This document will provide guidelines on practical and effective implementation of good practices to policy, and decision makers, authorities concerned with water, environment, agricultural, municipal and other relevant topics, entrepreneurs, land-owners, and others.

The conference and publication will support sustainable human, social, economic, and environmental development, the pillars stipulated in the Qatar National Vision 2030.

Qatar is currently importing more than 90% of its overall food requirements. This is not surprising due to the prevailing climatic conditions, which make freshwater-based agriculture difficult, due to the lack of freshwater availability. However, with improved water-management practices, decentralised waste-water treatment, reduced water-loss, halophyte research & development, and the careful application of existing technology, the situation can be improved. The reduced dependency on food-import will inevitably reduce the carbon foot-print of Qatar, which is currently importing most of its food-supply by ship, truck, and air. Dr Benno BE[micro]er (Ecological Sciences Advisor in the Arab Region, Unesco Doha Office), Miguel ClE-sener-Godt (Unesco's Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences), Anil Mishra (Unesco's Division of Water Sciences).

Gulf Times Newspaper 2012

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Nov 15, 2012
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