UN gathering takes on causes and impact of land degradation

4 November 2008

With some 12 million hectares of land lost every year to degradation and other environmental causes, a United Nations gathering kicks off today in Istanbul, Turkey, to tackle a problem which risks being forgotten due to the current global financial crisis.

Nearly half the African continent – where 60 per cent of the population depends on agriculture – is affected by land degradation, with sub-Saharan Africa facing threats to its food production capacity.

The seventh session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC7) to tackle desertification will take place from 3-14 November.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) entered into force in December 1996 and currently has nearly 200 States Parties. Along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), it is one of the outcomes of the historic environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

“The impact of natural resource degradation is potentially even more devastating in financial terms than the current global meltdown,” said Christian Mersmann, Managing Director of the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, which provides advisory services on sustainable land management. “The socio-economic cost of inaction on people’s livelihoods is colossal.”

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that desertification has an annual price tag of $9 billion in Africa alone.

“The triple scourge of poverty, climate change and high food prices constitutes a set of global challenges which require a fully coordinated global response to deal with today’s short-term needs and meet the medium to longer term imperative of higher and sustainable agricultural productivity and production,” said Kanayo Nwanze, Vice-President of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

According to that agency, one quarter of the world’s topsoil, one-fifth of the agricultural land and one-third of forests have been degraded or lost in the past five decades.

 

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