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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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New York, 20 September 2011 - Secretary-General's remarks at High Level Meeting on Desertification

Today, the drylands of the Horn of Africa are experiencing the most severe food crisis in the world.

More than 13 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

The United Nations and our partners are working hard to save lives and alleviate suffering.

But let me be frank.

Drought does not have to become famine.

Too often the international community reacts too late.

Too often decisions are taken based on false economies.

In the end we count the cost not just in human lives but in the extra expense of responding to crises that could have been averted for a fraction of the price.

The world's drylands are too often an investment desert, seen by governments and the international community as a lost cause.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I thank the General Assembly for holding this meeting to highlight that drylands hold the potential, both immediate and long term, to drive national economic growth and sustainable human development.

Forty per cent of the Earth's land mass is characterized as arid or semi-arid.

Two billion people depend on drylands for sustenance and income.

Many are among the world's poorest and most vulnerable to hunger.

Drylands also offer considerable potential for helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Dryland carbon storage, mainly in the form of soil carbon, accounts for more than one third of the global stock.

So the incentive for the sustainable management of drylands is clear.

Why, then, are we allowing these valuable lands that support so many people to deteriorate due to unsustainable land and water use and the impacts of climate change?

Let us resolve today to reverse this trend.

Let us recognize that resisting desertification, preserving drylands and nurturing the communities that depend on them lies at the core of sustainable development.

Contrary to common perception, not all drylands are barren or unproductive.

Some of the world's primary cereal-producing regions are in semi-arid areas.

Communities and businesses everywhere are discovering the potential of drylands.

Tibetan herders are selling yak wool for cashmere in worldwide luxury markets.

Unique pelts are providing income for communities in the arid regions of Namibia where conventional farming is impossible.

In other areas biofuels grow where little else can. The potential of dryland solar and wind resources has barely been tapped.

Timely action on our part can unlock these riches and provide solutions to a number of global challenges, from food insecurity to rural poverty, energy insecurity, biodiversity loss, climate change, political instability, geopolitical conflict and forced migration.

But to do this we need enhanced investment in halting desertification and reclaiming degraded lands.

Success stories can point the way, and success stories abound.

From restoring ancient terraces in the Peruvian Andes, to planting trees to hold back the encroaching Saharan sands, from rehabilitating watersheds in India to using summer floods to reduce salinity in China, there are examples from all continents of governments and communities reversing desertification and improving the productivity of the land.

But we must also acknowledge that land degradation is not just a dryland issue.

Studies show that land degradation is occurring in humid, tropical areas at a faster rate than ever before.

If this phenomenon is not reversed in time, it could roll back our efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals ] and achieve sustainable development.

As the climate warms, drought will emerge in new areas and become more frequent and intense.

Drought and land degradation must therefore move to the centre of policy development.

By refocusing our development agenda to include the potential of drylands we can break the links between poverty and desertification, drought and land degradation.

The outcome of your deliberations today will feed into the tenth session of the Conference of Parties of the UNCCD [ United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification] and the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

We are still early in the International Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification and the 10-year strategic plan of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

Let us resolve today to work towards a world of no more land degradation.

Let us make sustainable land-use a cornerstone of the green economy for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

I wish you a productive meeting and I count on your leadership and commitment.

I thank you.


Statements on 20 September 2011