Human Challenges


Convener: Alon Tal, Tel Aviv University


There are a range of direct drivers responsible for the desertification of drylands – from overgrazing to deforestation. Yet in most cases, these phenomena are a reflection of underlying population pressures from demographic growth. Indeed the Convention to Combat Desertification specifically mentions the role of demographic dynamics, but rarely are these dynamics ever addressed in academic or practical forums that seek to seek solution to desertification. The session will bring leading demographic experts and development practitioners to discuss a range of interventions – from family planning to women empowerment programs which have been successfully implemented in dryland countries with an eye towards making policy recommendations that can be scaled up across affected countries.


Co-Conveners: Miri Lavi-Neeman, Arava Institute and Orit Ben Zvi Assaraf, BGU


As communities around the world face an increasing risk of extreme weather events, amplified by rapidly growing population, new waves of migration, urbanization, new poverties, and the rise of new forms of climate justice movements-- environmental education in and outside school settings face new challenges.

What are appropriate and needed educational responses to these rapidly changing conditions? What pedagogies, questions and new forms of knowledge and learning should be advanced and raised in order to produce citizens who can cope with such challenging processes? And finally, what new type of research tools and methodologies emerge to develop and teach us about them.

This Session seek to explore and promote these questions as they are addressed by scholars from around the world at local, regional, or global levels.

We seek work in progress of final papers dealing with new understandings of environmental education, or with old practices and themes reframed in the context of the current context of the environmental crisis.

We encourage studies of different ways of coping with these challenges in educational framework such as: the introduction of the food water and energy nexus into the world of education, studies of the different ways communities experience climate challenges whether they are indigenous, particularly vulnerable, urban or rural, new studies of environmental science education, and finally political education or education for climate justice. Engagement with diverse schools of thought, and with variety of communities, analysis of case studies of educational practices or theoretical papers are welcome contributions.

The session may be divided to more than one, and clustered around particular shared interest in accordance with proposals. In order to provide a forum for constructive discussion of research, theory and practice, presentations should be scholarly, analytical and critical, though they may offer possible applicable implications for science and environmental education across cultures.

The session’s primary international audiences are those working in or with the broad fields of education and educational research, as well as environmental studies, and relevant interdisciplinary aspects.


Co-Conveners: Miri Lavi-Neeman, Arava Institute and Yael Perez, UC Berkeley


Co-sponsored session w/workshop: DevEng/InFEWS program, UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies, and Arava Institute for Environmental Studies

Several innovative technologies for food, energy and water systems offer sustainable solutions to the challenges of sustaining human life in arid areas. However, the development of these solutions often ignores Indigenous concerns and values. To make indigenous communities more resilient and to help them flourish, research has shown that it is critical to incorporate participatory design and culturally-sensitive approaches to the innovation process. The goal of this session is to articulate guidelines and training for co- innovation of food, energy and water systems with Indigenous communities in the Negev as a follow-up to a parallel workshop offered with the Navajo Nation in the USA in June 2020.

Pre-session field trip: In this fieldtrip, participants will visit a Negev community that has implemented an innovative system encompassing food, energy and water. Through the visit, participants will get familiarized with a food-energy-water problems in its local context, will explore the solutions offered, and will hear from community representatives about current challenges that are still unresolved.

The working session that will follow the fieldtrip, will include 3-5 presentations (10 minutes each) of case-studies of co-innovation with indigenous communities from Israel and around the world, after-which a workshop will be facilitated to brainstorm and co-design solutions for the challenges presented in the fieldtrip (30 minutes).

The last part of the working session (50 minutes) will include a reflection on the co-design process and identification of methodologies for co-innovation with Indigenous communities. A framework for case-studies of co-innovation with Indigenous communities will be defined and refined to be disseminated through the participants in the workshop.


Co-Conveners: Miri Lavi-Neeman, Arava Institute and Orit Ben Zvi Assaraf, BGU


The Arid Lands is a history of our “knowledge” of deserts and drylands, in the MENA region, or in landscapes outside of the imperial core of global political economy. It is an impressive intellectual history of the science and management that have shaped our understanding of the arid lands, their representation, perceptions, and presentations as wastelands, and the desertification discourses tying them to colonial times. The book also raises significant questions about changing knowledge regimes and changing practices for living sustainably in the drylands of our planet and perhaps beyond.

Since the Publication of Diana K. Davis book in 2016, new scholarship in geography, anthropology, history, and environmental studies have emerged, and further explored some of the books arguments , relationships, and legacies regarding dessert ,desertification discourses, their understandings, and development practices, in Israel's and Palestine past and present.

Possible but not exclusive topics and lines of research are:

1) The role of knowledge, expertise, and science in shaping arid lands

2) How knowledge production is shaped by material and social conditions, and how, in turn, this shapes the material and social.(including gender relations, class and ethnic

identity and boundaries, national identities etc)

3) Environmental history and the origins of key ideas: such as desiccation theory, which linked deforestation with climate change and ultimately desertification.

4) Perspectives of arid land users themselves.

5) Indigenous knowledge

6) How do pastoralists view and experience land degradation

7) The relationship between “desiccation theory” and the “truth” of desert ecology

8) Practices and policies aimed to overcome aridity, and manage the landscapes, their peoples, and their cultural practices,

9) Efforts to “return” the desert to its “natural” Productive state via (among other things) privatization, forced sedentarism, and all sorts of astonishing projects of socio-ecological reengineering.

10) Ways in which we can restructure our relations with drylands (and in many cases, with their Indigenous and nonhuman residents)


Co-Conveners: Nadav Davidovitch, BGU, and Maya Negev, University of Haifa


Co-Conveners: Noa Avriel Avni, Dead Sea and Arava Center, and Yoav Avni, Dead Sea and Arava Center. The Israel Geological Survey.


The great challenges of living in arid and hyper-arid regions around the world are permanent shortage of water, limited food resources and inherent uncertainty regarding water availability, in terms of its quantity and spatial distribution. These challenges dictate the main weaknesses of desert societies that, according to the existing paradigm, are prone to suffer from a permanent risk of collapse. However, in the Middle East deserts, human societies are known since prehistoric times traversing the entire hyper-dry Holocene. This fact suggests that the simple common paradigm ascribing high vulnerability to desert societies needs to be re-examined.

This session is dedicated to papers focused on various aspects of social – ecological resilience of desert societies from short and long-term records. We invite contributions from different disciplines: geomorphology, ecology, archeology, sociology, education and more which (i) introduce new data and techniques to quantify and compare components of socio-ecological resilience in various datasets; (ii) identify patterns (in time/ space) of drivers (biotic, abiotic, social) of stability and resilience; (iii) test key assumptions and predictions of social-ecological resilience theory.


Co-Conveners: Rina Kedem , Dead Sea and Arava Institute, and Suleiman Halasah


Numerous communities around the world are affected by political conflict between countries, particularly in border regions. Since geopolitical borders are manmade, they often cross natural resources, habitats or unique landscapes. Therefore, border-region communities tend to share the impact of conflict as well as natural resources and environmental challenges, all of which affect their daily lives (Arieli, 2012; 2015; Conca & Dabelko, 2002; Jacoby, 1973; Levy, 2009; Ratner et al., 2013).

Although many violent conflicts have ended in agreements, they continue to suffer from implementation predicaments and continue to be volatile. Predicaments include lack of direct implementation of items of the agreement, lack of follow up and enforcement, as well as violation of agreement items (Bekoe, 2016; Braniff, 2012; Bruch et al., 2009). Post-conflict regions are prone to reoccurrence of conflict on one hand, while on the other, official peace agreements can facilitate joint solutions to shared problems and needs (Rustad & Binningsbo, 2012). The environment can be a catalyst of cooperation and conflict, with the potential to improve or induce existing conflict and post-conflict conditions, particularly in border communities (Bruch, et al., 2009; Madani et al., 2014; Rustad & Binningsbo, 2012)

Environmental cooperation between countries became essential and dominant in global environmental governance strategies since the second half of the 20th century. The effectiveness and implementation of international environmental regimes has been vastly researched (Jackson & Buhr, 2015; Mushkat, 2013; Young, 2001; 2011). Yet there is very little or no specific reference to the environmental regime between countries in post- conflict relations

The southern border communities in Israel and Jordan are both under constant threats of desertification and global climate change. Environmental and scientific cooperation efforts have been practiced since the signing of the Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994. International agencies, universities and local NGO’s have been involved in such cooperation which produced by now rich experiences and conceptual frameworks

Some of the questions which will be discussed in the suggested panel include:

  • To what extent does research cooperation improve well being of communities and their specific resilience in facing desertification and global climate change?
  • • Is the scientific cooperation a goal or a method in achieving other tiers of cooperation and what theories approach these different approaches?

    • What are the challenges researchers experience in promoting such research and its specific potential contribution in the field of desertification?

    • What are the methodological challenges to asses the contribution of collaborative research and how can they be mitigated?

    • What are the recommendations experienced researchers can provide for promoting more collaborative research?

    This session is dedicated to papers focused on various aspects of scientific collaboration in post-conflict situations, namely Israel- and Jordan. Topics can include: the contribution of such collaboration to natural systems as well as community resilience and cooperation, the methodological challenges in assessing the success of such collaboration, and specific research on the topic of climate change, desertification and their cross-border nature and mitigation strategies. Contributions are invited from natural and social science disciplines as well as an invitation to test key assumptions and predictions of environmental peacebuilding theories.

    The session will introduce and discuss theory and case studies of environmental cooperation through desert research. Case studies form around the world and specifically from Israel and Jordan will be presented as well as the challenges and opportunities of such collaboration. Whether the collaboration is motivated by science or a wish for good relations it can serve the wellbeing of the environment and the cooperation itself. Nevertheless, its contribution to community wellbeing and desert literacy must be assessed.

    The session will include local speakers from Israel and Jordan and an international expert from the field of environmental peacebuilding.


    Co-Conveners: Ambassador Gil Haskel Head of MASHAV and MASHAV/MCTC experts


    This panel will discuss the challenges women face in a changing environment and in feeding families and communities in dryland areas. Women play a crucial role in the production and preparation of food, and need to be included in all decision making policies regarding developing the drylands for sustainability and combatting and preventing desertification. Panelists will also discuss the Sustainable Development Goals, gender mainstreaming and how to integrate gender as a cross-cutting issue in all activities.


    1. Challenges faced by women and feeding the drylands

    2. SDG’s and gender equality

    3. Gender mainstreaming in development

    4. The link between gender and the environment

    5. Women and sustainable environment

    About MASHAV and MCTC

    One of the main outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference was the agreement by Member States to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post 2015 development agenda. As a member of the “Global Sustainable Development Criteria” (GSTC) initiative, Israel is committed to the promotion of sustainable communities worldwide.

    MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, through its affiliate the Golda Meir Carmel Training Center (MCTC), shares Israeli knowledge, best practices and experiences regarding sustainable development and women’s empowerment, gender equality especially concerning environmental development, community development, and leadership development.


    Co-Conveners: Erdogan Ozevren (UNCCD) and Pedro Berliner (BGU)


    Desertification affects large tracts of our planet’s land mass, but the common perception is that developing countries face bigger challenges than developed ones and require external help, particularly in the fields of agricultural production and water management. The transfer of technologies in these fields has therefore become a central issue in the global efforts to arrest desertification and mitigate droughts. While there is no doubt that technology should reach the farmers that are those most in need of new technologies, agricultural technologies cannot be transferred from one site to the other without being adapted to the local conditions. The latter process can be a rather complicated task in view of the almost infinite variations in soil, climate and water quality, to name just a few. Therefore, only fully trained personnel can ensure that the technology that is transferred to the end user is appropriate to the environment in which it will be implemented.

    In this session we intend to critically examine some aspects of the process of technology transfer as commonly implemented and present some interesting case studies. Among the topics that will be at the core of the session:

    1. What is the role of CSO’s in the technology transfer process?
    2. How can technology transfer be structured in order to include governments, research institutes, private sector and CSO’s?
    3. How efficient and sustainable is the “hands on technology transfer”?
    4. How can the efficiency of technology transfer be objectively assessed?
    5. Are there common denominators in the transfer of technologies that will address drought, sand and dust storm protection, renewable energy, food production, etc.?
    6. Case studies of successes and failures.