#2019WDCD global observance in Ankara, Turkey

WDCD2019 Ankara

The global observance of the 2019 World Day to Combat Desertification in Ankara started with a remarkable performance by Turkish traditional dancers sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey. Another curtain raiser was a video presentation of the World Day celebration, showing the problems associated with desertification, land degradation and drought, followed by the efforts of countries – in particular, Turkey, to solve the problems in achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN). The video message from the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres was also shown. 

President of the Republic of Turkey H.E. Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan also sent a congratulatory message, stressing the importance of productive land not only for human well-being, but for biodiversity and natural resources. He said that everyone must do their best to preserve the natural assets and heritage and pass them on to the next generations.

Following the message, Dr. Ahmet Ipek, Director General of Combating Desertification and Erosion, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry also welcomed the participants. He said that the fight against desertification and land degradation is a joint obligation to protect the soil – a unique source of life. He called desertification and land degradation “a silent catastrophe” that can lead to food shortage, hunger, migration, unemployment, poverty, conflicts and instability. He said that Turkey is aware of its responsibility in protecting healthy soils. Read the full statement (in Turkish).

Dr. Bekir Pakdemirli, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, reviewed the 25 years of progress made by the international community in tackling desertification, land degradation and drought, and commended the countries which set up their voluntary targets to achieve LDN. He stressed the importance of sustainable land management for sustaining human existence, saying that it is high time to build the future together “as desertification does not recognize borders.” The Ankara Initiative was established and implemented for this purpose, and Turkey is cooperating with countries, especially in Africa, to ensure better management of natural resources. He also shared the country’s experience in combating soil erosion and deforestation over the past sixteen years. “Nobody wants to leave their hometown – this is the last resort.” he said, “So before it’s too late and before the land loses its productivity totally and before it becomes a place where people cannot live, we have to take our measures, act in a holistic manner and protect our land.”  In Turkey, the amount of soil transported to seas, lakes and dams has been reduced to 72 million tons from about 500 million tons per year compared to the 1970s – equivalent to 30 000 football stadiums. Read the full statement in Turkish.

This was followed by the opening statement of the UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, who drew the attention of the audience t, people damage the health of our planet and themselves. Taking care of land is the responsibility of anyone who wants to ensure equal rights to eat, to drink and to breathe; to make a safe home in a town or in the country, to access jobs, education, technology, medicine and investment opportunities.

The opening remarks by the dignitaries were followed by the Award ceremony of the international photo contest organized by the Government of Turkey to commemorate the World Day. The photographs of the winners and runner-ups were exhibited during the observance event.

Also, the Land for Life Award winners were announced by H.E. Mr.  Mahdi Mohammed Gulaid, Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia. The winners are the Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia (first prize); Mr. Mathieu Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso (second prize) and Mr. Yun Da, incumbent head of the Department of Finance of Tibet Autonomous Region (the special China Award). More information about the winners... 

The ministerial round table that followed became a special occasion for ministers and high-level participants to celebrate WDCD together and share solutions towards achieving LDN at the country level. The session was chaired by Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Turkey Dr. Bekir Pakdemirli and the UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr Ibrahim Thiaw. Read more...

In the afternoon, a special event to commemorate 25 years of the UNCCD took place. The session started with a tribute to late Hama Arba Diallo, the first Executive Secretary of the UNCCD. 

Mr. Diallo served as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) from 1990 to 1992, working closely with Ambassador Bo Kjellén, who was at the time chief negotiator for the Swedish Ministry of Environment. Mr. Kjellén could not attend the Ankara event, but sent this testimony in memory of his beloved former colleague and close friend:

At the United Nations, I had the privilege of meeting Arba Diallo, who at the time had a responsibility for Africa in the Secretariat. He became my best adviser and also a personal friend. He shared with me all his wisdom and his deep knowledge of African affairs. His strong personality, his good advice and loyalty, had a decisive impact on the success of the negotiations. We travelled together in Africa, to Mauretania and Mali, to his native Burkina Faso and to other parts of West Africa, he visited me in Sweden and we had a perfect working relationship during the long UN negotiations, not least because of his sense of humor. During his long tenure in Bonn, I met him regularly over many years. I still miss him a lot.


Mayor of Dori and the Member of Parliament in Burkina Faso, Ahmad Aziz Diallo, who is the son of late Mr Diallo, joined the event to share the commemorative moment. He announced the establishment of the Hama Arba Diallo Foundation for Education and the Environment that will support various school projects and provide environmental support – developing access to drinking water and sanitation and promoting the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems along with renewable energy sources.

Mr Thiaw also announced that the Executive Board room of the UNCCD Secretariat in Bonn will be named as the Hama Arba Diallo Room. After the tribute to late Mr Diallo, the video messages from the UN organizations that closely cooperate with UNCCD were presented:

  • Achim Steiner – Administrator of United Nations Development Programme 
  • Cristiana Paşca Palmer – Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity 
  • Patricia Espinosa – Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and
  • Inger Andersen – Executive Director of the UN Environment 

The following special panel session included participants deeply committed to the creation and shaping of the UNCCD:

  • Luc Gnacadja – former UNCCD Executive Secretary (2007-2013)
  • Rogatien Biaou (Benin) – Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INCD) negotiator
  • Dr. Mariam Akhtar-Schuster, UNCCD SPI member
  • Recep Konuk – Ak Parti, twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth Term Parliamentarian, President of Pankobirlik, Turkey
  • Akif ÖZKALDI – Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Turkey

They recalled the Convention’s landmark moments and the role that the Convention can play in achieving LDN. The panelists stressed the importance of good land governance in combatting desertification and land degradation. They also discussed the onsite and offsite negative impacts of desertification and land degradation that have a far-reaching impact on land. LDN was conceptualized as a paradigm shift in the ways we use land resources and consume land products. Other key points included:

  • The need to move from land administration to land governance, supporting more comprehensive and extensive land management
  • Equitable sharing and adaptation of technology along with technology transfer are needed to help developing countries, especially in the areas of biotechnology and bio-economy
  • Capacity building and development are the foundation for better land management
  • Drought and land degradation create a vicious cycle, and novel approaches are needed to overcome it 
  • Land degradation needs to be linked to consumption patterns of individuals as consumer choices in one part of the world can worsen land degradation in another (telecoupling) 
  • LDN and sustainable consumption patterns need to find their way into university programmes to create a new generation of land-aware scientists 
  • Synergies between three Rio Conventions need to be explored further, for example, by organizing a periodic joint conference on relevant issues
  • Inclusivity and education of vulnerable groups are paramount for promoting better land stewardship 

During the panel session, the messages from Ambassador Bo Kjellen, former Ambassador of Sweden and Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INCD) negotiator, and Monique Barbut, the third Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, were shared.

International Soil Congress

The Congress started after the opening session of the World Day global observance on 17 June and continued 18 June with the keynote speech by the UNCCD Lead Scientist Dr. Barron Orr. He provided a comprehensive overview of LDN and its potential for a positive transformation of natural and human systems when based on robust science and inclusive policies. In his presentation Dr. Orr emphasized the need for a balanced approach to achieving land degradation neutrality by doing “the right thing in the right place at the right scale.” 

Another keynote speech was delivered by a former UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Luc Gnacadja, who spoke about how he conceptualized land degradation neutrality (LDN), and possible scenarios for successful transformation towards LDN by taking examples of land restoration in Africa. “Land degradation neutrality is a tool that serves as a catalyst for increased recognition of soil as a global common,” he said. To create a dynamic enabling environment for LDN, he listed key elements such as mapping land status and potential, making landscape the unit for integrated/holistic land management, and addressing the overall governance transformation beyond land governance.  Download Mr. Gnacadja's presentation.