General Assembly High-Level Meeting on 20 September Will Focus on Actions to Reverse Increasing Loss of Productive Lands in World’s Dry Regions

19 September 2011

General Assembly High-Level Meeting on 20 September Will Focus on Actions to Reverse Increasing Loss of Productive Lands in World’s Dry Regions

19 September 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release

General Assembly High-Level Meeting on 20 September Will Focus on Actions


to Reverse Increasing Loss of Productive Lands in World’s Dry Regions


Affecting More than 2 Billion People,

Desertification Leads to Poverty, Drought, Famine, Demographic Pressures

The United Nations will convene a High-Level Meeting on Tuesday, 20 September, to focus on actions aimed at protecting drylands, home to 2 billion people, as productive lands in dry regions around the world are increasingly threatened due to poor land-management practices and climate change.

More than 12 million hectares of productive land are lost to desertification every year, the equivalent of losing an area the size of South Africa every decade.  While productive land becomes scarcer, providing food for the 9 billion people predicted to be living on the planet by 2050 will require a 70 per cent increase in global food production.

The United Nations High-Level Meeting aims to spur actions to reverse desertification.  To develop better policies for sustainable land management with a firmer scientific basis, one of the Meeting’s main discussion points will be the establishment of a global scientific panel to foster stronger connections between the scientific community and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

More than 100 Heads of State and Government, or Heads of Delegation, will participate in the Meeting, which will open with a 9:30 a.m. plenary, to be followed by interactive panels and a closing plenary at 5:45 p.m.  A short film, Desertification, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, cinematographer and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), will be screened at the Meeting.

“The people who live in the arid lands, which occupy more than 40 per cent of our planet’s land area, are among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to hunger,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.  “Frequently, they depend on land that is degraded and where productivity has shrunk to below subsistence levels.”

While the term desertification often conjures up visions of land turning into barren tracts of sand, it actually refers to a less dramatic but equally destructive process — loss of the capacity to grow crops or raise livestock in arid, semi-arid or dry sub-humid areas, so-called drylands, where some 2.3 billion people live in nearly 100 countries.

“This high-level meeting will provide a unique opportunity to raise awareness on the global land degradation threat and the urgent need for stronger action,” said Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  “We are all at risk.  Just 6-10 inches of top soil stand between us and extinction.”

By controlling and reversing desertification, curbing the effects of drought and restoring productive lands, there is an opportunity to make a direct positive contribution to reducing poverty, improving people’s lives and meeting the targets of the Millennium Development Goals.  Addressing desertification ensures that reducing poverty and improving development are sustainable over the long term, especially with an expanding global population.

After the Meeting’s conclusion, the President of the General Assembly will present a summary of the discussions to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification at its tenth session, to be held in Changwon, Republic of Korea, from 10 to 21 October, and to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, often referred to as “Rio+20”, to be held in Rio de Janeiro from 4 to 6 June 2012.

About the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

Desertification, climate change and the loss of biodiversity were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or “Earth Summit”.  Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment, development and the promotion of healthy soils.  Its 194 signatory countries, or States Parties, work to alleviate poverty in the drylands, maintain and restore the land’s productivity and mitigate the effects of drought.

For more information on the General Assembly High-Level Meeting, please visit

For media information, contact the United Nations Department of Public Information: Dan Shepard, +1 212 963 9495,; or Wynne Boelt, +1 212 963 8264,

UNCCD Secretariat: Wagaki Mwangi, +49 228 815 2820, +1 917 367 4081,

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.