1. What is the World Day to Combat Desertification?
In 1995, the United Nations designated 17 June as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD) to raise awareness about the threats and consequences of desertification and drought. But the goal of the day is not only to talk about the problems, but also the solutions. Through proper planning and sustainable land management, the effects of desertification and drought can be lessened and even prevented.
The theme of this year’s observance is ecosystem-based adaptation. We chose this theme to increase awareness about the potential of ecosystem-based adaptation as a strategy for coping with the impacts of climate change, especially in the drylands. Ecosystem-based adaptation means the strengthening of natural systems to cushion the worst impacts of climate change. When ecosystems are healthy, they are less vulnerable to the impacts and hazards of climate change.
2. What is desertification?
Desertification means land degradation in in the drylands, which are technically known as arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas. It is a gradual process of soil productivity loss and the thinning out of the vegetative cover that occurs as a result of human activities and climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods. While fertile topsoil takes centuries to form, if mistreated, it can be blown or washed away within just a few seasons. Among the reasons for desertification caused by humans are over cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices.
3. How does desertification affect me?
The effects of desertification, land degradation and drought are the most extreme for the rural poor. Approximately 1.5 billion people globally depend on degrading areas for their livelihoods, and nearly half of the world’s very poor (42%) live in degraded areas. While these people may seem far away to those of us who live in cities or developed countries, the effects of their suffering ripples across the globe.
Drylands regions are some of the most insecure places in the world, and in some cases their instability can destabilize entire political regions. Desertification, land degradation and drought are a major cause of migration and displacement. While the number of climate related migrations is debated, it is estimated that by 2020 some 60 million people will migrate from the desertified areas in sub-Saharan Africa towards Northern Africa and Europe. The Millennium Development Goals and other development targets cannot be achieved without sustainable futures for people in the drylands.
But desertification and land degradation are not just problems of the very poor. More than 110 countries are potentially at risk of desertification, and half of the world’s livestock can be found in the drylands. If food production in the drylands collapses, food prices worldwide will skyrocket. The global economic losses from desertification and land degradation amount to approximately USD 42 billion each year.
But drylands are not only a cause for concern; they are a home to resilient resourceful cultures and tremendous biodiversity. Dryland habitats are home to endangered species such as lions, elephant, rhino, buffalo, giraffe and many others which are further threatened by desertification. The drylands are the original source of one in every three plants that we cultivate, such as oats, barley, tomatoes, potato, cabbage and the saffron spice.
They are also home to tremendous genetic resources that are commonly used for medical infections (like antibiotics), ingredients for cosmetics (like Marula oil) and unique strains of drought resistant plants. At least 30 per cent of the world’s cultivated plants and many livestock breeds originate in drylands, providing an important genetic reservoir that is becoming increasingly valuable for climate change adaptation.
For sources see footnotes in the Action Planning Guide.