By OMAR AKOUR and WANJOHI KABUKURU, Associated Press

SABHA, Jordan (AP) — Efforts to restore damaged but once fertile land in the Jordanian desert are raising hopes for one of the world’s most water-scarce nations, as a report assessing the land warned on Wednesday of the growing scale of global degradation.

Local organizations believe projects that reintroduce native plants and implement smart water-harvesting systems will cushion the impacts of climate change and desertification, which will only get worse, according to the UN report .

The UN desertification agency says 40% of the world’s land is currently degraded, blaming unsustainable land and water management, poor agricultural practices, mining, urbanization and infrastructure development for land degradation.

Mira Haddad, of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, said several other factors, including “overexploitation of vegetation cover, overgrazing and… new land practices”, as well as climate change, are also contributing to land degradation in Jordan.

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But environmentalists are already exploring options to avoid further damage. One of the efforts, led by the Watershed and Development Initiative, is introducing four native plants to 10,000 acres (41 square kilometers) of desert in the Sabha Reserve, about 56 miles (90 kilometers) east of the Jordanian capital Amman.

“We work on water, we work on green cover and we also work with the habitats of creatures, from insects to animals and all living parts of this ecosystem”, Deyala Tarawneh, founding member of WADI “The success rate of these plants is 85%, which is considered a very high percentage, and they only need to be watered once, which also reduces the amount of water needed to irrigate the spaces green.”

But despite the success of WADI’s planting initiative, land restoration in Jordan still faces several challenges: the number of land units available for restoration is lacking and the willingness of local communities to leave the land for at least one or two rainy seasons without grazing also hamper efforts, said ICARDA’s Haddad.

Jordan is one of many countries already grappling with the effects of degradation, with more than 2.3 billion people currently living in water-stressed countries, according to the UN report. He warned that further disruptions to food supplies, forced migrations and increased pressure on species survival are also expected as climate change intensifies and poor land management practices continue. By 2030, he warns that 700 million people could be displaced by drought.

“The situation we have now is unhealthy and certainly not acceptable,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UN desertification agency, told The Associated Press. “The more you degrade the land, the more carbon you emit and the more you contribute to climate change.”

The report calls for financial support to strengthen conservation and restoration in developing countries. It says the expansion of protected areas and conservation hotspots, better water management, smart agriculture and the regeneration of biodiversity can be boosted with the right funding.

If these types of measures are implemented on a larger scale, the UN agency’s restoration scenario predicts reduced biodiversity loss and improved soil health, with benefits particularly felt in South Africa. North and Sub-Saharan, Middle East and Latin America.

But it also notes that inaction would lead to 16 million square kilometers (6 million square miles) – almost the size of the entire South American continent – of land degradation by 2050.

The report also recommends strengthening the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, urging farmers to learn many lessons about land restoration, crop adaptation and herding from established customs and traditional knowledge.

“We welcome new allies in this battle, including economic actors who are increasingly interested in avoiding climate risk, but we must make it clear that we will not be used for greenwashing,” said José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal , the head of the Congress of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon Basin, said in a statement, “Partnering with Indigenous Peoples requires embracing transformative change.

The UN’s Thiaw agreed that support for restoration projects should be stepped up.

“The message of the report is that land degradation should not be seen as inevitable. It can be solved and it is the cheapest solution to the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity. It’s possible to do that by 2050, which is just one generation away,” Thiaw said. “It does not require high technology or a doctorate to undertake. Land restoration is accessible and democratic.”

Several countries, like Jordan, are already tackling their own land issues, from drought preparedness programs in Mexico, the United States and Brazil, to the 11-nation Great Green Wall in Africa aimed at restoring 100 million hectares (390,000 square miles) of degraded landscapes along the Sahel.

“Land restoration is a victory for the environment, economy, society and biodiversity,” Thiaw said. “What we are asking for now is the acceleration of such programs.”

Wanjohi Kabukuru reported from Mombasa, Kenya.

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