On World Day, UN officials urge global action to increase response to drought

Degraded dryland ecossystems put at risk the social and economic well-being of millions of people.
Binh Thuan, Thien Anh Huynh/Vietnam/UNEP
Degraded dryland ecossystems put at risk the social and economic well-being of millions of people.

On World Day, UN officials urge global action to increase response to drought

Countries must work collectively to build resilience and prepare themselves against drought, United Nations officials stressed today, highlighting the extensive costs of this global threat.

“Droughts are hard to avert, but their effects can be mitigated. Because they rarely observe national borders they demand a collective response,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which this year focuses on the theme, 'Don't let our future dry up,' highlighting water scarcity.

From Uzbekistan and Brazil to the Sahel and Australia, drought affects all regions of the planet and has the potential to affect the livelihoods of millions of people. Just last month, Namibia declared a national drought emergency as 14 per cent of the population became food insecure. Last year, the United States experienced its worst drought since the 1950s, affecting 80 per cent of agricultural land.

“Over the past quarter-century, the world has become more drought-prone, and droughts are projected to become more widespread, intense and frequent as a result of climate change,” Mr. Ban said.

“The long-term impacts of prolonged drought on ecosystems are profound, accelerating land degradation and desertification. The consequences include impoverishment and the risk of local conflict over water resources and productive land.”

Mr. Ban underlined that “the price of preparedness is minimal compared to the cost of disaster relief,” and encouraged countries to build resilience to droughts by implementing the outcomes of the High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy, held in Geneva last March.

He also called for implementation of last year's agreement at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to avoid and offset land degradation.

Mr. Ban's call was echoed by Luc Gnacadja, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which leads global efforts to mitigate drought and combat desertification and land degradation.

“For over three decades, the international community has grappled with drought impacts and their mitigation. But relief still dominates. In most cases, the response is too late,” Mr. Gnacadja said.

“Investing in our resilience today costs a fraction of the relief price we will pay tomorrow, and its benefits are worth far more. Becoming a drought-resilient global society is not only possible and affordable; it must be our first and only option.”

Mr. Gnacadja pointed to the achievements of the village of Batodi in Niger, where 5 million hectares of land were restored through agroforestry, as an example of progress. As a result of the restoration, the water table rose by 14 metres. “The most affected communities are not standing by but are leading the way to drought resilience and water security,” he said.

To mark the Day, Mr. Gnacadja announced the three winners of 2013 Land for Life Award, a global initiative with a prize fund of $100,000. The award was established last year to recognize innovative and replicable community initiatives, which strengthen the resilience of vulnerable and affected populations.

Mr. Gnacadja also announced that the Drylands Champions initiative was set up under the Convention to rally support for individuals that are making a practical difference on the ground. Eritrea, Hungary, Kenya, Portugal and Thailand have announced that they will designate their first Drylands Champions as part of the Day's celebrations.

Events are also planned in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Georgia, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Timor-Leste, Turkey and Ukraine.