Annan urges tougher action against creeping desertification

16 June 2004

With an estimated 135 million people at risk of being driven from their land because of continuing desertification, the world must focus more on reversing this trend, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a message to mark tomorrow’s observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification.

Mr. Annan says the governments of Member States should cooperate with civil society, business and international organizations to promote more sustainable development so that land remains arable and does not become desert.

This year’s World Day – its theme is “Social Dimensions of Desertification; Migration and Poverty” – also marks the 10th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which now has 191 signatories.

In his message, Mr. Annan warns that the rural poor are particularly vulnerable, especially in the developing world. The UNCCD Secretariat estimates that more than one billion people and one-third of the Earth’s surface are threatened by desertification.

The Secretary-General says desertification can reduce productivity in some regions by as much as half. “It contributes to food insecurity, famine and poverty, and can give rise to social, economic and political tensions that can cause conflicts, further poverty and land degradation,” he says.

Creeping desertification, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is inducing large migration movements as locals who once farmed in what are now arid areas seek a living elsewhere.

By 2020, according to UNCCD, 60 million people are expected to migrate from the desertified areas of sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa or Europe.

And, since 1990, it is believed about six million hectares of productive land have been lost every year around the world as the land become degraded and less fertile.