UN launches decade-long drive to combat desertification

16 August 2010 – The United Nations today unveiled a decade-long push to raise awareness and mobilize action to fight desertification, which threatens the livelihoods of more than 1 billion people in 100 countries.

Desertification is defined as the degradation of drylands, which comprise more than 40 per cent of the world’s land surface and are home to 2.1 billion people – one in every three people worldwide.

One third of all crops cultivated today have their origins in drylands, which also support half of all livestock.

“Continued land degradation – whether from climate change, unsustainable agriculture or poor management of water resources – is a threat to food security, leading to starvation among the most acutely affected communities and robbing the world of productive land,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to the launch of the Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification in Fortaleza, Brazil.

The General Assembly designated 2010-2020 as the Decade in 2007 to heighten public awareness of the threat posed by desertification, land degradation and drought to sustainable development.

As the 10-year scheme gets under way, Mr. Ban said, “let us pledge to intensify our efforts to nurture the land we need for achieving the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] and guaranteeing human well-being.”

Agreed upon by world leaders, the MDGs are eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.

The Secretary-General pointed out that there are growing social costs resulting from land degradation, with increased competition for resources spurring conflict, while the forced migration of millions of people also heightens the risk of social breakdown.

“These are formidable challenges,” he said. “But they are not intractable.”

Around the world, efforts to rehabilitate drylands are bearing fruit, Mr. Ban noted. Continued help for local communities can lead to the preservation or recovery of millions of hectares of land, alleviate vulnerability to climate change and reduce hunger and poverty.

Some 12 million hectares of land – an area the size of Benin and which could produce 20 million tons of grain annually – are lost every year to degradation, resulting in an annual loss of $42 billion.

Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), stressed in Fortaleza today that “the path of business-as-usual will worsen the speed of degradation with devastating impacts on livelihoods families and communities, and will further cause more extinction of life and jeopardize the future of humanity.”

He underlined the need for an alternative route that “will embrace and undertake the formidable challenges of sustainability implying that we choose to channel our collective action towards it.”

Nearly all of the inhabitants of drylands are in developing countries, and the official issued a call for international cooperation on financial assistance, capacity building and technology transfer.

The Decade, he emphasized, must fight lingering misperceptions of drylands as being wastelands, marginal areas or liabilities, as well as the idea that desertification is only a local – not global – concern.

“Let us not be the generation that jeopardizes the heritage of future generations by degrading any land,” Mr. Gnacadja said today.

Along with the UNCCD, four other UN agencies – the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) – have been mandated by the General Assembly to spearhead activities related to the Decade.

Through its work during the last three decades, IFAD said that “it has become clear that to eliminate rural poverty we must also address the issue of how land and natural resources are managed.”

The agency pointed to the experience of Bedouin communities in the Badia rangelands, 10 million hectares in central and eastern Syria, known for its poor soils and low rainfall.

After years of severe drought and intensive grazing, the Badia has become badly degraded, but vegetation has been restored in one third of the area, with Bedouin herders working with project experts to draft and implement management plans to determine how many animals should graze in a given area at a given time.

That scheme, just one of numerous success stories, took a three-pronged approach to rehabilitation: resting, re-seeding and planting.

“When governments, UN agencies and other partners work together, we can ensure that experiences like those of the Bedouin communities in the Badia rangelands become the rule – and not the exception,” IFAD said.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Tackling land degradation crucial for human well-being, UN officials stress

Related Stories





More videos »


In-depth Interviews