Launch of the GAR Special Report on Drought 2021

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Speech of UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw,

Thank you to Ms. Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, for her opening remarks. Thank you for putting together this special report on drought.

My take from the report is that we must act now to prevent future droughts from destroying development gains.

As we speak, at least one million people are facing starvation because of drought.

At least 24 countries are hit by drought in 2021 only.

From 1998 to 2017, droughts have affected at least 1.5 billion people, and led to economic losses of USD 124 billion across the globe .

Within the next 80 years, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure.

Droughts are growing due to climate change and other human-driven factors. When I say 1.7 billion people are already faced with water stress, you may take it as statistics.

But beyond these numbers, we have human beings that are suffering.

I personally witnessed the effects of drought. So for me, this is not theory. I am not reading statistics. I did not watch it on Television.

Droughts destroy life.

They have the ability to demolish social fabric.  

You see with your very eyes.  You watch and seer your assets vanishing. Live.

This affects you for the rest of your life.

It has on you the effect of a Permanent Marker. It’s Indelible.

This is why I am happy to say that Parties to the UNCCD take droughts very seriously.

At the last COP, they established an Inter-Governmental Working Group on Drought. Discussions are ongoing. Helping prepare negotiations at COP 15 next year.

Is it by coincidence that in most countries, years of drought are listed as years of economic downturn? Most countries have their economies essentially dependent on the Primary Sector. Which means they depend on a thin layer of soil and a few millimeters of rain. When the rain does not come on time and in good quantity, the water stress induces a major disruption. When at the same time the soil is degraded, the crisis can turn into a catastrophe.

This is why, the threats caused by droughts should unite us. We need to join forces, to mitigate the effects. On people. On nature. On the economy. We don’t have to wait until the disruption turns into a disaster,  before we respond. Emergency measures are more costly to deploy. Less efficient as more often than not, they arrive late, despite heroic efforts by rescue teams.

Dear friends,

No country is immune to drought. Rich or poor.

Yes, the impacts of drought hit the poorest countries hardest. But high-income countries are also feeling the impacts – as we have seen in the United States.

We must deal with drought, using every tool we can. So what are these tools?

As the theme of today’s Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is Restoration, Land, Recovery, let us start there.

Trillions of dollars are put into pandemic recovery.

Meanwhile, restoration commitments covering almost one billion hectares are in place as we head out on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

This presents us with a chance to build back better with healthy land.

Land restoration is simple, inexpensive and accessible to all.

It removes carbon from the atmosphere, slowing the climate change that drives droughts.

It helps vulnerable communities adapt to droughts by, for example, increasing water storage.

It increases agricultural production.

All of this would reduce the estimated 700 million people at risk of being displaced by drought and land degradation, by 2030.

Restoration is not enough, however.

We need to protect and manage the land, through sustainable consumption and production.

On the agriculture side, this means sustainable and efficient management techniques that grow more food with less land and water.

On the consumption side, this means changing our relationships with food and clothing.

We must also understand that drought is complex, with a range of causes and impacts. These should not be considered in isolation.

We need coordination, communication and cooperation.

With proactive national drought policies and a joined-up approach to managing natural resources, we can mitigate the effects of drought.  

Some 66 countries are participating in the UNCCD’s global drought initiative. This initiative supports Parties to shift from a reactive approach to drought to a proactive and risk-based approach.

We are attacking the problem from many other angles – from addressing gender concerns to strengthening land tenure.

Friends, we must all act now to ensure that droughts do not set humanity back on its great endeavour to build a sustainable future.

I urge you all to implement the findings in this report.

Existing tools and resources may not be enough. But they can get us far, if we make a better use of the existing tools: Early Warning- Preparedness- Response.  We will be more much more efficient if we develop and implement integrated plans.  

Working together, we can ensure that the people of drought-hit regions have the chance of a better life.

Thank you.