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World Day to Combat Desertification
17 June 2011

Secretary-General's Message for 2012

The World Day to Combat Desertification falls this year on the eve of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Global efforts to halt and reverse land degradation are integral to creating the future we want. Sustainable land use is a prerequisite for lifting billions from poverty, enabling food and nutrition security, and safeguarding water supplies. It is a cornerstone of sustainable development.

The people who live in the world’s arid lands, which occupy more than 40 per cent of our planet’s land area, are among the poorest and most vulnerable to hunger. We will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 without preserving the soils on which their subsistence depends.

Nor will we be able to guarantee our freshwater resources, 70 per cent of which are already used for agriculture. By 2030 the demand for water is projected to rise by 35 per cent. Unless we change our land-use practices, we face the prospect of diminishing and inadequate water supplies, as well as more frequent and intense droughts.

Further, by 2050, we will need sufficient productive land to feed an estimated 9 billion people with per capita consumption levels greater than those of today. This will be impossible if soil loss continues at its current pace — an annual loss of 75 billion tons. Important land-use decisions need to be made, as well as critical investments ranging from extension services for small farmers to the latest technology to support environmentally sustainable mass food production.

Rio+20 is our opportunity to showcase the many smart and effective land management systems and options that exist or are in the pipeline. Twenty years on from the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, let us ensure that a commitment to sustainable land management features prominently in the official outcome at Rio and in the wider mobilization for sustainability that will also be part of Rio’s legacy. Without healthy soil, life on Earth is unsustainable.

Ban Ki-moon

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