Marking the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said these twin scourges posed a worldwide threat and urged countries to support an international pact designed to stop land degradation.
“Every year, an estimated $42 billion in income and 6 million hectares of productive land are being lost because of desertification, land degradation and declining agricultural productivity, and 135 million people who depend primarily on land for their livelihood are at risk of being displaced,” Mr. Annan said in his message on the occasion.
Over the next 20 years some 60 million people in Africa are expected to leave the Sahelian region if desertification there is not halted, he said. In north-east Asia, “dust and sandstorms have buried human settlements and forced schools and airports to shut down,” while in the Americas, dry spells and sandstorms have alarmed farmers and raised the spectre of another “Dust Bowl,” reminiscent of the 1930s. “And in southern Europe, lands once green and rich in vegetation are turning barren and brown,” he noted.
The Secretary-General called on States to implement the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which integrates environmental and developmental concerns. “I urge developed countries to follow through on the commitments they made both in adopting the Convention and at the ‘Earth Summit’ 10 years ago in Rio de Janeiro – including the provision of financial support,” he said.
Looking to the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, which will review progress since the Rio conference, he called for delegates to grapple with how to halt land degradation. “We need to reverse the decline in agricultural productivity, especially in Africa, so that food production keeps pace with the number of mouths to feed,” he said. “We need, in short, to implement the UN Convention to Combat Desertification as a key element in the world’s quest for sustainable development.”
In his message on the Day, the President of the General Assembly, Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea, also underscored the value of the treaty. “The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is a cooperative quest of the human community to address the environmental and social causes of desertification and its consequences, in particular poverty, food insecurity and forced massive migrations,” he said. “I urge all countries to join their efforts to stop desertification, which will help secure [a] healthy and green Earth for us and our future generations.”