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World Day to Combat Desertification
17 June

2012 Theme:
Healthy soil sustains your life: Let’s go land degradation neutral!

Children walking through a sandstorm in Tillaberi region, Niger

The Sahara desert and the semi-arid Sahel zone cover
about 80 percent of Niger, where the dry season lasts
eight months. Photo Credit: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

The demand for life’s essentials will rise significantly in the next 20 years. About 50% more food will be needed, 40% more energy and 35% more water. How will these demands be met and with what resources? 

This year the observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification will be celebrated one week before the Rio+20 Conference, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It is the commitment to become land-degradation neutral.

A Non-renewable Natural Resource

Facts and Figures

  • Land degradation is both a cause and consequence of poverty, affecting 1.5 billion people.
  • 42% of the world’s poorest people live in degraded areas.
  • Over 50% of farm lands worldwide are now moderately to severely degraded.
  • 80% of armed conflicts occurred in arid lands in 2007.
  • There is a growing numbers of economic migrants and environmental refugees, exacerbating problems and tensions in host communities, and further degrading land.

The world’s most significant non-renewable resource is fertile soil, which is the peel of productive land. Nevertheless, each year 12 million hectares of land, the area three times the size of Switzerland, are lost due to desertification. Land degradation directly affects 1.5 billion people globally.

Healthy soil sustains life. Yet, the importance of land and soil to humanity remains obscure to many. The risk to livelihoods emanating from land degradation does not receive the deserved attention. Soil is key for securing water, energy and building resilience to climate change, which is why it is so important for the the international community to urgently start implementing long-term sustainable land management in order to avoid the increasing loss of land.

Ensuring Drylands Sustainability

Nearly half of the world’s food production systems are supported by drylands. Accounting for more than 40 per cent of the world land mass, drylands are home to one third of the world population. Despite water scarcity, conflict-proneness and economic hardships, drylands are key to supporting the habitats, crops and livestock that sustain the entire global population.

Sustaining healthy soil and restoring degraded land in drylands can ensure food security, alleviate rural poverty and hunger and build resistance to major environmental challenges. Zero-net land degradation can be achieved when, over a given period of time, non-degraded land remains healthy, and already degraded-land is restored.

Successful practices for attaining the zero-net land degradation in drylands could be then effectively adapted and adopted in non-drylands. In turn, setting the Zero-net land degradation target globally will contribute to building the resilience of dry and non-dry lands and enable the successful achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, climate change adaption and mitigation and biodiversity preservation.

Political Steps Towards Land Degradation Neutrality

General Assembly High-Level Meeting

In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication brought together political leaders from across the world. Many of them stressed the need for a sustainable development goal on land with targets, which would lead to a land-degradation neutral world.

The Road to Rio +20

The notions of healthy soil and sustainability of life need to be embedded in the green economy and poverty eradication — two key elements of the Rio +20 Conference.

Speaking of "healthy soil" enables us to rise above debates that divide those, who are in favor of mechanized and chemical approaches and those, who uphold organic processes. It fits in the context of the global moves towards a green economy and sustainable development both of which emphasize a holistic, equitable and far-sighted approach to decision-making at all levels.

The conference aims to secure renewed political commitment for green economy and sustainable development, to assess the current progress and to address new and emerging challenges.

Source: UNCCD Concept Note, 15 February 2012 PDF

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