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Submitted by Shawki Barghouti on

Very timely conference with important messages about the urgent need for land policies responsive to the growing challenges facing the region. There are more than 300 million people in the region where about 80 percent of the land is marginal or desert environment. the region suffers from severe scarcity of land suitable for cultivation and of declining water resources. Large rural migration to urban centers in most MENA compounded by high rate of population growth has forced urbanization into scarce cultivated lands. For example, several experts in Egypt supported by satellite images have documented that expanding population and urbanization has cost Egypt the loss of than 50 thousand acres annually of rich agricultural land in the delta to accommodate increasing demands for housing, factories and business development. Over the last three decades, according to these experts,the already scarce irrigated agricultural lands in Egypt declined by about one million and half acres. The Government has lunched an impressive program to compensate for these losses by investing in the desert to expand cultivation and urban development. This expansion would rely on expensive and risky deep aquifers to extract ground water resources. The intial estimates of the cost of this porgram is close to nine billion dollars.Responsive land policies are urgently needed to guide sustainable development and management of both the old lands and the newly developed desert lands.
Urbanization in most MENA countries is expanding at the cost of significant losses in agricultural lands. Most productive rainfed areas around Amman Jordan have been converted to urban dwelling. Unlike Dubai where the desert has been transformed to impressive urban centers, most countries in MENA region have not adequately addressed the urgently needed land and water policies to guide the growing urbanization and to implement land use planning to protect scarce cultivable land and associated water resources.
The growth of dynamic urban centers such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are real life successful case studies of urban development in marginal areas without the need to invade already scarce agricultural lands in most of MENA countries.