Desertification could lead to mass migrations – UN study

28 June 2007

Governments must adopt strategies to mitigate the effects of desertification which are aggravated by climate change and could lead to mass migrations of tens of millions of people in the next decade, a new United Nations study cautioned today.

One third of the global population – or about 2 billion people – are threatened by encroaching desertification. If no actions are taken, over the next 10 years roughly 50 million people, equivalent to the total number of people in South Africa or the Republic of Korea, are in danger of being displaced.

Experts from the UN University (UNU) said that the loss of soil productivity and the degradation of nature threaten international stability, and appealed to governments to take an integrated approach to tackling issues concerning desertification, climate change and poverty reduction.

“It is imperative that effective policies and sustainable agricultural policies be put in place to reverse the decline of dry lands,” said Hans van Ginkel, Under-Secretary-General and UNU Rector.

Countries must bolster efforts regarding land use policy to bring an end to overgrazing, over-exploitation, trampling and unsustainable irrigation practices, he added.

The study – which is based on the input of 200 experts from 25 countries and was presented at UN Headquarters in New York today – observed that policy decisions are often made in isolation, with potentially counterproductive results.

“Some forces of globalization, while striving to reduce economic inequality and eliminate poverty, are contributing to worsening desertification,” said Professor Ginkel.

In addition, the formulation of policies to combat desertification “has been hindered by the lack of concrete data about rates and extent of desertification,” said Zafar Adeel, lead author of the study and Director of UNU’s International Network on Water, Environment and Health.

“We must, as the global international community interested in desertification, put monitoring and assessment at the top of our policy agenda.”

The analysis recommends that governments create financial incentives for those who use dry land to preserve and maintain their ecosystems and better educate local populations and policymakers who often do not have a good understanding of the basic concepts of dry lands and desertification.


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