Parties to UN convention seek breakthrough in anti-desertification effort

Parties to UN convention seek breakthrough in anti-desertification effort

The 176 Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) met in Geneva today to strengthen the treaty's ability to boost living standards and political stability in some of the world's poorest countries.

"Desertification affects the poorest of the poor by destroying the natural resources upon which their livelihoods depend, leading to hunger and the migration of millions of people," the Convention's Executive Secretary, Hama Arba Diallo, said at the meeting, which runs through 12 October.

"Recent crises in Mongolia, Afghanistan, and other drought-prone countries demonstrate just how vulnerable people in dryland countries are to political and social instability," he said. "The pay-off for investing in efforts to combat desertification today will be fewer refugees and victims of conflict tomorrow."

According to a statement issued today by the Convention's Secretariat, desertification is a major threat on all continents, severely or moderately affecting 110 countries and some 70 per cent of the world's agricultural drylands. What's more, global warming threatens to worsen the impacts on dryland ecosystems. The livelihoods of more than one billion people are or will suffer as a result of desertification, and more than 135 million people are at risk of being displaced as a consequence of severe desertification.

Progress under the Convention, which was adopted in 1994 in Paris, has been slowed by a lack of sufficient international funding and by the challenges of reforming domestic institutions and policies in affected countries, the statement also said. Unlike the climate change, biodiversity, and ozone treaties, the desertification agreement has lacked a predictable source of multilateral funding. Now, however, the Washington DC-based Global Environment Facility is considering adding land degradation to its current list of four focal areas.

Meanwhile, the Convention has now received some 175 national reports from affected countries and donor governments, making it possible to evaluate progress to date and identify success stories, according to the statement. They point the way forward to a global anti-desertification strategy based on international partnerships, mainstreaming desertification policies into national planning, decentralization and land reform, a more resolute involvement of civil society, and a push for more legislative reforms.