A land of diversity

  • The West Asia region is made up of the Mashriq subregion (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian Arab Republic) and the Arabian peninsula (Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Aabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen).
  • West Asia covers a wide variety of ecosystems including Mediterranean forests, deserts, plains, savannas, oases, mountains, rivers, lakes, marshes, mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs.
  • Societies in West Asia depend heavily on the nutritional, industrial and health benefits of the region’s biodiversity.
  • The forests and woodlands of West Asia occupy only 1.34% of West Asia’s total land area but this figure is steadily rising as countries recognize the value of forests.

A burgeoning population

  • The region’s population is continuing to increase by more than 3% a year—it grew from 36 million in 1970 to 118 million in 2005.
  • In the Arabian peninsula, urban growth is much more rapid and is among the highest worldwide. This urbanization was accompanied by changing consumption patterns and lifestyles, triggered by the region’s oil wealth.

Protected areas—a long tradition

  • Protected areas have existed in the region throughout history, following the concept of hima, which ensured the sustainable use of natural resources. After the second half of the 20th century many protected areas were lost in the Arabian peninsula and the Mashriq, due to the gradual abandonment of the hima.
  • The number of hima-based enterprises in Saudi Arabia dropped from 3,000 in 1969 to nine in 1997.
  • West Asia harbours wetlands and water bodies of international significance, a number of which are listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Water resources

  • Important rivers in the Mashriq include the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Jordan and the Litani, which support a wide range of aquatic plant, fish and bird diversity that is important to local communities.
  • Water extraction in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over the past few decades has led to the degradation of many of the region’s date palm oases and natural water springs. Serious wetlands degradation is taking place in southern Iraq, with the loss of 90% of lakes and marshlands.
  • The international community is responding to this loss, rehabilitating Mesopotamian marshlands and working with marshland communities on various sustainable development initiatives.
  • Water use per capita in Jordan is among the lowest in the world.

Conservation action

  • The regal Arabian Oryx, once hunted to near extinction, is recovering well, thanks to a captive breeding and reintroduction programme. Its population now stands at 1,000.
  • In Syria, efforts are underway to bring back the Northern Bald Ibis, once thought extinct in the region.
  • Work is ongoing in the Jordan Rift Valley to establish a network of four protected areas and seven smaller special conservation areas which will connect the larger protected areas. This network which will help migrating species, covers a cross section of all key habitats in the valley.

For more facts and figures see:

Investing in Nature and People, Celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity 2010, IUCN Annual Report 2010 for West Asia

UN Environment Programme report State of Biodiversity in West Asia http://www.unep.org/DEC/PDF/Stateofbiodiv-westasia.pdf