World Day to Combat Desertification
Statement by Achim Steiner
Statement by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director
Nairobi, 17 June 2010 - Combating environmental degradation, by protecting and restoring drylands, is an integral part of the solution in the fight against desertification and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Land degradation is an obstacle to dealing with a range of environmental and developmental challenges, from climate change and biodiversity loss to food security and poverty alleviation.
Globally, desertification has reached 3.6 billion hectares, which accounts for 25 percent of the Earth's terrestrial land mass. Desertification threatens the livelihoods of nearly a billion people in some 100 countries, causing US$42 billion in losses every year.
If the trend continues the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment predicts that poor communities that live in drylands and the desert margins will be the most affected.
In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 17 the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought to promote public awareness of the issue, and the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.
While land degradation and the resultant desertification are challenging and sometimes frightening factors in many countries, there have been success stories to learn from.
In Kenya's Machakos district, the government has worked hand in hand with local farmers to improve farming practices to combat the effects of desertification resulting from the erosion on hillside farms and cleared dry woodlands. Thousands of kilometres of farm terraces and field drains were constructed and new crop-livestock systems were put in place. In 40 years, land degradation was reversed. On a per capital basis, a doubling in output occurred even as the population grew fivefold from the 1940's to the 1980's.
China is a country that is battling land degradation on a huge scale. Nearly 400 million people nationwide live under the threat of desertification, and half of the population in desertified areas live under the poverty line.
Ningxia is one of the Chinese provinces hit hardest by desertification. The local government has insisted that combating desertification is a major priority and after nearly five decades of unremitting efforts, Ningxia can now proudly show that the deteriorating trend of desertification has been checked. Today, Ningxia is the first province in China to achieve a complete reversal of desertification.
The Machakos District and Ningxia Province's success has taken time and tremendous effort but the positive results are obvious, making this a crucial lesson for others to follow.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has, in support of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), been for many years assisting countries to enhance cooperation in controlling land degradation and the resultant desertification. Recently, an online reporting system has been designed to monitor performance and impacts in member states.
UNEP has been one of the lead UN agencies in transmitting this experience to the global community. It is also the implementing agency of the Land Degradation Assessment in the drylands project (LADA), which is funded by the Global Environment Fund and implemented by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). LADA develops tools and methods to assess and quantify the nature, extent, severity and impacts of land degradation on dryland ecosystems, watersheds and river basins. It also builds on the national, regional and international capacity to analyze, design and implement solutions to mitigate land degradation and establish sustainable land use and management practices.
Ultimately, we have the tools to combat the threat of an encroaching desert which will also put us on the path towards poverty alleviation. A farmer, whose land becomes healthy, again, can be ensured a livelihood.
It is all inter-linked: environmental protection and economic and social development. We cannot lose this battle but, as we all know, countries must work together to win it.