Desertification poses security risks, Ban warns on World Day

17 June 2009

With 200 million people projected to become environmentally-induced migrants by 2050, land degradation threatens national and regional stability, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, marking the World Day to Combat Desertification.

One-third of the Earth’s surface is affected by desertification, endangering the livelihoods and development of up to 1 billion people, Mr. Ban said in a message to commemorate the Day, which has been observed since 1995.

“Faced with long periods of drought, famine and deepening poverty, many have only one option: flight from the land,” he said, noting that there are already 24 million peopled forced by land degradation to leave their homes and that one-third of the world’s cropland has been abandoned in the past four decades.

Climate change is one force behind desertification, but the Secretary-General stressed that “we must reconsider our agricultural practices and how we manage our water resources,” with agriculture and livestock raising accounting for 70 per cent of fresh water use and up to 80 per cent of deforestation.

Increased demand for crops for both animal feed and biofuels will also strain scarce water resources without sustainable management, he pointed out.

Today’s message also emphasized the unsustainable nature of current global consumption and production patterns, which could lead to further global food crises, similar to last year’s, as well as continued desertification, land degradation and drought.

“As usual, the poor will be the first victims and the last to recover,” Mr. Ban said.

He exhorted world leaders to “seal [the] deal” on an ambitious new climate change pact – to replace the Kyoto Protocol – in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.

“A comprehensive and equitable agreement to slow down global warming must also help developing countries to adapt to the impacts that are already under way,” the Secretary-General said. “In particular, it must provide adequate and predictable financing to support improved land management, more efficient water use and sustainable agriculture.”

A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scheme to stem desertification in Africa has made strides, with extinct grass species being re-introduced, deploying rainwater harvesting, rotation grazing and other strategies.

The Desert Margins Programme has demonstrated success in pilot projects in nine African nations, including Senegal, where the Sahel Apple, a nutritious fruit with a high-market value which also restores degraded lands, was introduced by the scheme.

“Land degradation and desertification [are] not inevitable and the multiple inspiring solutions from the Deserts Margin Programme underscore this,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “It is time to scale-up and to replicate these kinds of actions in order to climate-proof vulnerable communities while boosting livelihoods, biodiversity and water supplies en route to achieving the UN’s poverty-related Millennium Development Goals [MDGs].”

 

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