With the rallying call “Don’t let our future dry up”, this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification is dedicated to highlighting the global risks of drought and water scarcity. The social, political and economic costs of drought are evident from Uzbekistan to Brazil, from the Sahel to Australia. In May, Namibia declared a national drought emergency, with 14 per cent of the population classified as food insecure. In 2012, the United States experienced its worst drought since the 1950s, affecting 80 per cent of agricultural land. In 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa – the worst since the early 1990s – affected nearly 13 million people.
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. 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.
Droughts are hard to avert, but their effects can be mitigated. Because they rarely observe national borders they demand a collective response. The price of preparedness is minimal compared to the cost of disaster relief. Let us therefore shift from managing crises to preparing for droughts and building resilience by fully implementing the outcomes of the High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy held in Geneva last March.
On this World Day to Combat Desertification, I urge the international community to fulfil the call of last year’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development to avoid and offset land degradation. By conserving arid lands we can protect essential water supplies, promote food and nutrition security, and reduce extreme poverty.