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New Global Study Reveals High Cost of Land Degradation and Drought

09/04/2013. The global community is losing up to 5 percent of global agricultural gross domestic production (GDP) due to land degradation, according to a scientific study issued today.

The study titled, “The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought: Methodologies and Analysis for Decision-Making,” was presented during the UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference which opened today in Bonn, Germany.

Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland, Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary and Walter Ammann, President, Global Risk Forum (GRF) Davos addressed the opening session.

Over 600 hundred scientists and representatives of government, international and civil society organizations are expected to attend the Conference, organized by a consortium led by the GRF Davos, under the theme, ‘Economic assessment of desertification, sustainable land management and resilience of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas’.

“Poverty eradication will still be the main goal of the international community. The trinity of green growth, social justice and global environmental boundaries should guide the work on Sustainable Development Goals for the post 2015 period,” said Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and Chairman of the Global Sustainability Panel.

“Sustainable land management, prevention of land degradation and rehabilitation of land is a most effective and cost benefit way to eradicate rural poverty. Land will provide food, decent job and income to the rural people. Sustainable land management is also closely linked with availability of energy and water sources,” she stressed.

She added that the information presented to the 2nd Scientific Conference of UNCCD indicates that integration of sustainable land management as a central part in the development policies and international cooperation will be smart economics, contribute to better life in rural areas and mitigate the environmental challenges.
“This is the first economic valuation of the cost of desertification and drought in over twenty years. It shows that desertification, land degradation and drought are key constraints to building social and environmental resilience, achieving global food security and delivering meaningful poverty reduction. Without action they will remain development’s Achilles Heel,” said Luc Gnacadja during the opening session.

“The study also points to significant opportunities for action but unless scientific understanding of all land degradation and drought is strengthened, especially in the context of a changing climate, the global community is poorly positioned to deal with the impact of change. Business as usual is no longer an option,” he added.

“Fertile soil is our most valuable non-renewable resource. It lays the foundation for life, feeding the billions populating our planet. Nevertheless, each year an area three times the size of Switzerland is lost for good due to desertification. We are cutting off the branch we are sitting on! We need to move from Thoughts to Action now! This conference is an important step,” said Walter Ammann, President GRF Davos.

The study shows that between 4-12% of Africa’s agricultural GDP is lost due to environmental degradation. The direct economic costs of land degradation at country level vary widely, with some as high as 6.6% of agricultural GDP in Paraguay, 9% in Burkina Faso and 24% in Guatemala.

The social costs are also staggering. Nearly 870 million people globally suffer from chronic hunger. In Uzbekistan, food yields have declined by 20-30% due to land degradation. In East Africa nearly 3.7 million people need food assistance due to the drought of 2011, the study states.

The study, which looks at the costs and benefits of addressing desertification, land degradation and drought, finds that the existing scientific research mostly focuses on the direct economic costs of these phenomena, but overlooks the unintended consequences, including indirect and off-site costs.

The last such economic valuation of desertification was made in 1992 by the United Nations Environment Programme. At that time, the direct cost was estimated at USD42 billion every year.

The outcomes of the Scientific Conference which ends Friday, 12 April, will be transmitted by the Committee on Science and Technology of the UNCCD to the Convention’s Conference of the Parties that meets in the latter half of the year.

Press release in French
Press release in Spanish

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For more information contact:
Wagaki Mwangi, UNCCD Press and Media Officer, wmwangi@unccd.int, +49-228 8152820, +49-(0)-173-2687593 (cell).

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