The Syrian steppe: past trends, current status and future priorities
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Syria’s rangelands are vitally important both ecologically and economically, and they also have significant cultural and heritage values for Bedouin communities. Rangelands are the country’s largest land-use category. The Syrian steppe covers approximately 10.5 million hectares, over half the country’s landmass.The Badia, as it is known in Arabic, is largely populated by seminomadic Bedouin people whose main occupation is herding sheep. In addition to serving as the resource base for animal production (a key source of income and livelihoods), rangelands provide a range of ecological services, such as nutrient cycling, pollutant fi ltering, and biodiversity preservation. Complex political, social, and environmental factors have resulted in the progressive degradation of the Badia ecosystem over the last 50 years. This degradation, caused by over-exploitation and unsustainable, poorly planned use of resources, is amplifi ed by harsh ecological conditions, including frequent droughts. In such environments, unchecked degradation often results in desertifi cation—a serious and irreversible threat with drastic consequences for the livelihoods of those dependent on rangelands. There are large spatial differences in the importance, intensity, and extent of land degradation in Syria, depending on a number of variables, including human and livestock density, living standards and conditions, and past and current management practices. The management of these rangelands, now and into the future, is therefore critical to the national economy. Past management practices have led to degradation of large rangeland areas, calling into question their long-term sustainability under current usage practices.