Costa Rica High-Level Forum for Desertification and Drought Day 2021

Costa Rica DDDay 2021

Speech by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw

First, I wish to express my deep gratitude to you, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, and to Costa Rica, for hosting the global manifestations of the 2021 Desertification and Drought Day.

This year, COVID-19 has given our global celebrations a different taste. The pandemic has reminded us how much we depend on nature. And how much we depend on each other. How much we should care about nature, as the destruction of natural habitats can affect our health. Our wealth.

Land is one the most precious asset there is.

As humans, we live on land. Land feeds us. Land provides us with the water we drink. Whether rich or poor, we share the same aspirations : healthy food ; clean air, clean water ; and a decent life.

As the world battles with the pandemic and its severe consequences on our economy, some people may wonder why we care about land! Why is it a priority, amid all the challenges the world is facing?

Actually, land is part of the solution. Which is why the theme of this year’s Desertification and Drought Day is: Restoration. Land. Recovery.

Think about the millions of farmers, indigenous peoples, and small holders whose only asset is land. For them, land loss means economic loss. A loss of their capital. A loss of their life as they have always known it. A dislocation of their society and their way of life.

In the Latin America and the Caribbean region, and indeed in Costa Rica, as is the case elsewhere in the world, land degradation causes economic losses, impacting food security and the livelihoods of millions.

These are losses Latin America, and The Caribbean can ill afford, as one-third of the population lives in poverty and about one in six people live in extreme poverty.

Land degradation has multiple other consequences, including:

Forced migration. Be it in the Sahel, in Haiti, in the Central American dry corridor, or in Afghanistan. What is left to a young person to do, when they can no longer feed their family from their land? They flee.

Land degradation is a direct cause of conflicts: competition over access to scarce land and water. Hardly a day passes without media reporting new casualties or incidents. Mainly between farmers and transhumant pastoralists. In Africa, in the Middle East. Or in Central Asia…

It is known: land degradation exacerbates food insecurity.

In some regions of the world, direct and indirect links have been established between land loss and terrorism as well as all sorts of trafficking.

Furthermore, with climate change, scientists record more frequent and more severe droughts. When droughts strike, most farmers and pastoralists lose their livelihoods. National economies are severely affected. In many countries, the primary sector plays such an important role that years of drought generally correspond to years of economic downturn.

Compounded with the loss of biodiversity, which affects productivity and the resilience of communities…

It is a vicious cycle.

The good news, yes there is good news. It is not all doom and gloom.

Yes, we have tools to avert further damage. Yes, we can reverse these losses and lift people out of poverty.

Costa Rica is one the countries that has applied these tools. Successfully so. Which is one of the reasons why we are excited that you offered to host the global celebrations of the Desertification and Drought Day.

More than 1500 technologies have been successfully tried and tested from around the world. So, technically, we know how to restore degraded land. Though, unfortunately, we still have to overcome some institutional barriers.

Here again, I want to use the example of Costa Rica. The first country to create a commission for the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. This commission unites government, civil society, and academia in the fight against land degradation. It is a step in the right direction.



Allow me to share some insights from the latest research from the UNCCD. Indeed, protecting and restoring nature can help drive a green recovery while preventing future epidemics or pandemics.

Investing in nature-based solutions, specifically land restoration, can allow us to build forward better a greener, healthier, stronger and a more sustainable world.

Restoring land will accelerate progress in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Through the creation of millions of green jobs.

Through food security. Women empowerment. Climate action. Vibrant biodiversity. Water conservation. Human health.

Therefore, building on the high-level dialogue organised just a couple of days ago under the aegis of the President of the UN General Assembly, the message of this forum, should be clear.

We need concerted and collaborative efforts to regenerate our natural capital, transform our food systems, and rethink our infrastructure and cities. Work with nature, not against Nature.

Listening to the millions of voices from around the world, leaders must build ambition towards land stewardship, as we move into the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Already, 127 countries have committed to targets and measures to restore the land. In total, one billion hectares of land are targeted with restoration commitments. That is the size of Canada. This is a strong start.

But to deliver, and increase ambition, we need to get the financing right – starting with the post-pandemic stimulus packages.

In that respect, we appreciate the Global Initiative on Land Restoration adopted by the G20, aiming at halving the amount of degraded land by 2040.

The Great Green Wall of the Africa’s Sahel is a good example of regional cooperation, with 11 countries across Africa joining forces to restore land. Similar initiatives exist in Latin America, in The Middle East and elsewhere.

So, there is momentum.

People are starting to understand that investing in land-based solutions to sustain post-pandemic recovery efforts is a smart economic decision. Indeed, every dollar spent on ecosystem restoration generates up to thirty dollars to the economy.  

With all its hardship, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink about our future. An opportunity to secure a future of healthier people and nature, secure livelihoods and greater equality and opportunity for all.

There are still major barriers. But we have the tools to succeed. Though, as we all know, tools are only useful when they are used aptly, with determination and a strategic vision.

We must pick up our tools and use them to build the future we want to leave to the next generations.

This, dear friends, is our collective task.

Thank you.