The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has disclosed that nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished as a direct consequence of land degradation, declining soil, fertility, unsustainable water use, drought and bio-diversity loss, requiring long-term solutions to help communities increase resilience to climate change.
In his message to mark the recent World Day to Combat Desertification, whose theme this year is ‘Protect Earth. Restore land. Engage people’, the Secretary-General said, “The livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of people are at stake.”
“Over the next 25 years, land degradation could reduce global food productivity by as much as 12 per cent, leading to a 30 per cent increase in world food prices,” he added.
Ranking among the greatest environmental challenges of our time, desertification is a phenomenon that refers to the persistent degradation of dry-land ecosystems by human activities – including unsustainable farming, mining, over-grazing and clear -cutting of land – and by climate change.
The Day – which is observed annually on June 17 – is intended to promote public awareness of the issues of desertification and drought, and the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification.
Many children can no longer go to school because they are forced to look for water. To escape the heat, they begin their search at night usually coming home the next day in the afternoon.
In his message, the Secretary-General emphasised that more than 50 per cent of agricultural land is moderately or severely degraded, with 12 million hectares lost to production each year.
“Desertification, land degradation, drought and climate change are interconnected. As a result of land degradation and climate change, the severity and frequency of droughts have been increasing, along with floods and extreme temperatures,” he said.
Ban emphasised that without a long-term solution, desertification and land degradation will not only affect food supply but lead to increased migration and threaten the stability of many nations and regions.
“This is why world leaders made land degradation neutrality one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That means rehabilitating at least 12 million hectares of degraded land a year,” he said.
One important approach towards achieving that goal is sustainable, climate-smart agriculture, Ban said. To him, that will help communities build resilience to climate change, while also supporting mitigation by taking carbon from the atmosphere and putting it back in the soil.
“The transition to sustainable agriculture will also alleviate poverty and generate employment, especially among the world’s poorest. By 2050, it could create some 200 million jobs across the entire food production system,” the UN chief said.
“On this Day, I urge cooperation among all actors to help achieve land degradation neutrality as part of a broader effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and build a future of dignity and opportunity for all,” he added.
In another message to mark the Day, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, underscored that desertification is a threat to both arid and non-arid regions, where land over-exploitation, including intensive farming, forest exploitation for fuel and timber and overgrazing have turned fertile soils into sterile land.
“Extreme weather events – like droughts, winds, floods and climate disruptions – are amplifying the effects and adding new causes to the degradation cycle,” said Ms. Bokova.
“The stakes are high – this is why the goal of achieving land degradation neutrality is so important. This is set out in Target 15.3 of the new Sustainable Development Goals, to maintain and even improve the amount of healthy and productive land resources,” she added.