Land Degradation ‘A Tide of Death’, Secretary-General Tells Dryland Policy Alliance, Calling for Reversal of Trend

31 January 2011

Land Degradation ‘A Tide of Death’, Secretary-General Tells Dryland Policy Alliance, Calling for Reversal of Trend

31 January 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Land Degradation ‘A Tide of Death’, Secretary-General Tells


Dryland Policy Alliance, Calling for Reversal of Trend


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Dryland Policy Alliance, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 30 January:

Thank you, Professor [Jeffrey] Sachs, for your kind introduction.

These days, whenever I get together with people to discuss sustainable development — as I did just last week on the green economy — I talk about what I call the 50-50-50 challenge.  How can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent while feeding and nurturing a human population that in 2050 will be 50 per cent larger than today?

Will the 9 billion people who will inhabit this planet in 2050 have the opportunity to thrive?  Or will they see their world descend into chaos as climate change accelerates, ecosystems decline and resources become ever more scarce?

This is the fundamental question of sustainable development.  It is particularly relevant to drylands, where both the soils and the people are among the world’s most vulnerable.  And it is especially pertinent to Africa.

Land degradation spreads each year.  It is a tide of death.  The loss of productive land is devastating to communities and to nations.  If we are to meet the 50-50-50 challenge we must reverse this trend.  I therefore commend the Drylands Initiative launched by the Millennium Development Goals Centre and the Community for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Reducing poverty and increasing productivity in drylands is not just important for people’s well-being.  It is essential for the stability and sustainable development of the region and the continent.  I will closely watch the outcomes of your initiative, and so too will the members of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability that I established last year to feed into the intergovernmental preparations for the 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development.

Our world is very different than it was at the time of the first Earth Summit.  Then we were just glimpsing the emerging challenges of climate change, desertification, land degradation and the loss of species.  Today, many of those concerns have become urgent, with considerable implications for the Millennium Development Goals.

The Earth Summit provided a vision for achieving the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.  It also provided important elements of the multilateral machinery we need for a sustainable future — including the three “Rio conventions”, on climate change, desertification and biodiversity.

But we have yet to see comprehensive and coherent action — and, more importantly, results.  We have seen considerable economic growth in the past two decades, particularly in the emerging economies.  Hundreds of millions of people have risen from poverty — in Asia, Latin America and, increasingly, in Africa.  But if we are to sustain these benefits and bring them to hundreds of millions more, economic growth must be balanced with respect for the human and natural capital that is its foundation.

Here we are in Ethiopia’s beautiful mountain capital.  For much of the world, Ethiopia was once a byword for hunger, famine and suffering.  A degraded environment played a significant role.  But you know, and I know, that this picture is changing.  Once denuded hillsides are sprouting new growth.  Millions of Ethiopians have planted more than a billion trees.

Ethiopia’s experience underscores my core message for this meeting: we can meet this challenge.  We can do so if we invest in the most vulnerable, the hardest to reach.  It is there that we will see the biggest return for our investment.

Let us shine a particular focus on pastoralists.  Their culture and traditions are under threat across the continent.  This is not just an injustice, it is a waste of precious resources.

Second, let us invest in dryland soils to secure the food and nutrition security of Africa.  Let us scale up and disseminate the good practices and policies that Governments and communities are developing in partnership with the United Nations and bodies such as the Millennium Development Goals Centre.

Third, let us recognize the value in every piece of land in Africa and invest in those who tend the land — especially the women who produce most of the continent’s food.  We are still at the dawn of the Decade of African Women.  Let us make it a decade of triumph and progress.  Let us invest in women’s health, education and fundamental rights so we can achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Our planet is under growing strain.  Land degradation and desertification provide some the most vivid and dramatic evidence.  We need a fundamental transformation in how we mange our natural assets, a practical, twenty-first century model of development that connects the dots between poverty reduction, climate change, food, water and energy security.

By investing wisely in all the elements of sustainable development, we can reverse land degradation, reduce poverty and give hope and opportunity to all.

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