United Nations agencies have agreed to step up their efforts to protect and revitalize drylands, and help improve the social and economic well-being of the communities that rely on these ecosystems.
Deserts, grasslands, savannahs and other drylands cover an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s land area and support around 2 billion people, 90 per cent of whom live in developing countries. Some 10 per cent of the world’s dryland ecosystems are already degraded due to factors such as unsustainable land and water use, jeopardizing the well-being of millions of people.
A new UN report launched today, entitled “Global Drylands: A UN system-wide response,” sets out a common vision and agenda for action across the Organization on drylands management.
A central element of the common agenda is the need to address the underlying causes of land degradation and create enabling conditions for the sustainable development of drylands, according to a news release issued by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Drylands have all too often been the poor relations in respect to more high profile ecosystems such as forests and coral reefs,” noted UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, who is also chair of the UN’s Environment Management Group (EMG).
“Yet as this report underlines, they play a critical role in the Earth’s planetary systems and support the lives and livelihoods of around two billion people.”
The report was prepared by 18 UN agencies through the EMG and presented today at the meeting of States parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) being held in Changwon, Republic of Korea.
It calls for increased investment in drylands, strengthened links between science and policy, and diversified livelihoods for communities to relieve pressure on natural resources to realize the potential of drylands.
The report also states that the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be achieved without addressing the needs of drylands communities.
Among its key findings is that human well-being in relation to health, food security, nutrition and security is at risk from dryland degradation which costs developing countries an estimated 4-8 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) each year.
The drylands of Africa and Asia pose special challenges, according to the report. Climatic fluctuations may be most pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, resulting in the poorest regions with the highest levels of chronic undernourishment being exposed to the greatest degree of instability.
The report also states that dryland biodiversity provides important ecosystem services that benefit local communities. For example, dryland forests and woodlands provide shade and moisture, are home to pollinators, protect nutrients and help reduce erosion and flooding. Drylands have also contributed to ecosystem services including pharmaceuticals and raw materials.
The overriding imperative for investing in drylands must be poverty reduction, says the report, which adds that the UN system is uniquely positioned to promote increased investments and there is great potential for mobilising partnerships.