13 May 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by executive secretary OF Un convention to combat desertification

The convergence of the global food, fuel, financial and economic crises, against a backdrop of climate change, presented an unprecedented opportunity for action to reshape the development agenda and should not be wasted, Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Addressing desertification, one of the thematic clusters under consideration by the high-level segment of the Commission on Sustainable Development, he said the major challenge to be considered was how to reconcile the competing needs associated with food, water and energy security, while reversing environmental degradation and fighting climate change.  The Convention’s stand was that sustainable land and water management was a cost-effective way out and a win-win ground on which to address desertification, including the issue of conserving biological diversity.

He said the drylands stretching across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as parts of Latin America, were the most crisis-ridden parts of the planet.  They faced severe and intensifying challenges, including frequent and deadly drought, in addition to extreme poverty.  The regions scored at the very bottom of the United Nations index of human development, which ranked countries according to income, life expectancy and education.  As a result of those desperate conditions, dryland countries like Afghanistan, Chad, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, among others, were afflicted by a disproportionate number of violent conflicts.

Water scarcity in particular had been a source of territorial conflict when traditional land-management systems failed in the face of rising populations and temperatures as well as declining rainfall, he said.  Furthermore, prime farm and forest land was being degraded at an annual rate of 1 per cent, which was hampering the ability to ensure long-term food security.

He therefore called for action to “scale up and scale out” what was known to work, saying that success stories in combating desertification, land degradation and drought occurred at the grassroots level in many countries.  “Poor soils result in poor people.”  The potential of soil was for the common good and the most degraded soil held the greatest potential for remediation.  Thus, the unparalleled potential of soil for climate change mitigation remained untapped.

Responding to a question, he said combating land degradation and desertification had been successful to some extent.  According to a recent report, 24 per cent of the global terrestrial area had been degraded in 25 years, but the same report also highlighted that almost 16 per cent of that area had been improved, meaning that actions to combat land degradation had been successful.  Such success stories were to be found in the Sahel, parts of the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and parts of China.

It was those success stories that needed to be “scaled up and scaled out”, taken to other places in dissemination of what worked, he continued.  There was a need for some of those affected countries to find a regional cooperation agreement.  “Combating land degradation and desertification is mostly about enhancing action in watershed management and water catchments and improving moisture in the soil.  So there is a need for cooperation at that level.”

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For information media • not an official record