Land degradation, desertification pose challenge to achieving anti-poverty goals, UN says

24 October 2005

Land degradation and desertification are among the central issues facing the international community as it aims to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, including stemming the loss of biodiversity and achieving a healthier and more stable world, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said today in Nairobi.

"The world's soils are in some ways unique. You can clean up a river or the air. But cleaning up soils is far more difficult. If you lose soils, it can take centuries, if not longer, to replace them," Mr. Toepfer told the High-Level Segment of the 191-member UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) meeting in the Kenyan capital.

Desertification or land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry, sub-humid areas is a worldwide problem leading to poverty, hunger and forced migration and affecting the two-thirds of the agricultural land where the world's poorest live, UNEP said.

Sixty-six per cent of the African continent is classified as desert or drylands and 46 per cent as vulnerable to desertification, while there are similar statistics from Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Southern Europe, according to the agency.

If land degradation continues, the targets and timetables from the World Summit on Sustainable Development agreed in 2002 – including reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity – will be harder to achieve, Mr. Toepfer said.

He welcomed the launch of the $4 billion TerrAfrica initiative against land degradation, in which UNEP is taking part.


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