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Issues of the Day Israeli Specialists Convene to Discuss Land Degradation, a Global Problem

I attended a one-day conference on land degradation held yesterday at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva. The setting, the lofty Senate Auditorium, was emblematic of the heightened attention placed on matters involving human agency and environmental degradation by scientists world-wide, including Israeli specialists. The auditorium was packed with academics and professionals.

The conference's focus was geo-informatics, a field that applies new imaging and measuring models directed to the study of geographical and related phenomena. Yesterday's meeting  dealt with such phenomena as creeping desertification, soil erosion, salinization, water-logging and flooding,  and a deterioration of soil quality in Israel and the borderland with neighboring states.


 In Israel, the attempt to fight desertification has always been a concern, although it has not always been correctly addressed. A presentation by Yitzhak Moshe of the Keren Kayemet conservation agency described attempts to revive ancient land use technologies such as Nabatean terraces to counter soil loss and water runoff. The efficacy of low-technologies in land rehabilitation was described.  

The emergence of fissures, depressions and sinkholes, the latter particularly around the Dead Sea, on various landscapes throughout the country was discussed by several presenters. The causes of these phenomena include infrastructure works such as the construction of roadways using heavy equipment, insufficient drainage systems, unsustainable cultivation by both Jewish and Bedouin farmers,  and changes due to global change such as modifications in Negev rainfall patterns characterized by fewer but more intense incidences of precipitation. 

One presentation dealt with the effects of storm activity on Israel's Sharon Cliffs along the coast, while another showed the positive effects of the planned cultivation of shrubs and other vegetations in ruts and fissures that have emerged in open spaces and protected lands. The reconstruction of ancient stone dams to stop the lengthening and widening of land cleavages, and the selective plantation of trees were shown to aid in the rehabilitation of affected lands.

The conference was sponsored by the Israel Geographical Association, of which I am a member, the Soil Conservation branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.    

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved