- Deserts are expanding rapidly, devouring fertile land and soaking up water resources.
- Desertification is threatening to uproot millions from their homes.
- Climate change and a growing population are the root causes of this phenomenon.
The desert is making a comeback in the Middle East, with fertile lands turning into barren wastes that could further destabilize the region, experts said at a water conference on Thursday.
"Desertification spreads like cancer; it can't be noticed immediately," said Wadid Erian, a soil expert with the Arab League, at a conference on Thursday in the Egyptian coastal town of Alexandria.
The United Nations Development Programme's 2009 Arab Human Development Report said desertification threatened about 2.87 million square kilometers of land (1.15 million square miles) -- or a fifth of the Middle East and north Africa.
A 2007 UN study spoke of an "environmental crisis of global proportions" that could uproot 50 million people from their homes by 2010, mostly in Africa.
Burgeoning populations, which put further strain on the environment, and climate change are accelerating the trend, he said.
Programs by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification were underfunded, she said. "They said just draw a plan and we'll fund you," she added. "There was never any funding."