The global conflicts of the coming century will be fought over water, not oil, unless issues of climate change and poverty are not addressed, a world conference on desertification has been told. The four-day UN Conference on Deserts and Desertification, which opened on Monday, has attracted more than 200 participants from 30 countries hoping to find ways to solve a spreading crisis. Attendees were also told they had to come up with ways to make the most of desert conditions. 'We need to learn from the resilience of Israel in developing drylands,' deputy secretary-general of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) ambassador Gregoire de Kalbermatten told the conference. 'Why are we here? Because the link between conflict in this part of the world can be viewed in the broader link between natural resources and ecology. If current climate scenarios of change, growth demographics, consumption patterns and poverty continue, the fight in the 21st century will be over water, not oil.' The conference, jointly hosted by the UNCCD and Israel's Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, will address the effectiveness of different initiatives employed to combat desertification. The UN General Assembly declared 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification to help prevent the spread of global desertification and to raise awareness of the problem. Drylands make up more than 40 per cent of the world's surface and are inhabited by some of the world's poorest people. Israel's knowledge of dryland agriculture could be of great value to these desperately needy people, a UN statement issued at the conference said. Among the attendees was Josephine Simon, a community conservation officer at Tanzania's African Wildlife Foundation. 'There are tremendous conflicts between African farmers and pastoral groups over eco-balance and land degradation,' she said. Panel sessions during the four-day conference will address issues of dryland biodiversity and the ecosystem, agroforestry, management of degraded lands and impact of climate change on drylands. 'One-third of humanity lives in drylands,' said UNCCD ecology professor Uriel Safriel. 'So this presents challenges - erosion, soil salination, and loss of vegetation cover. At the same time, however, there are opportunities - agriculture can be replaced with aquaculture, ecotourism can be promoted and urban development such as that in Las Vegas and Riyadh can be encouraged,' said Professor Safriel. Israel has been a global leader in innovative desert technologies including drip irrigation, brackish water fish farming, desert algae cultivation and desalinisation. Conference attendees will also visit solar centres, desert ecotourism sites, brackish water fisheries and algae development centres. 'The message coming from here is that desert drylands are opportunities for mankind, not curses. Following Israel's lead, we can use deserts for the betterment of mankind,' said Professor Safriel.