Tackling Desertification Critical for Our Security Warn UN leaders on Africa Environment Day

Press Release

Maseru, Lesotho, 3 March 2014 – To mark Africa Environment Day, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has issued Desertification: The invisible frontline, a publication showing the link between desertification, climate change and the growing threats to national and international security.

There is no systematic research to date showing that desertification, climate change and conflict interact. Scholars, leading security organizations and practitioners have often alluded to this possibility, but this is one of the first initiatives from the UNCCD recently to highlight possible relations among these dynamics.

The study shows an overlap in the regions in Africa that are highly vulnerable to desertification and where seasonal temperatures as well as incidences of drought and erratic rainfall have risen over the last 40 years, with areas that had high incidences of terrorist attacks in 2012 and of conflict and food riots in 2007-2008.

Food insecurity, water conflicts, migration, internal displacement, political radicalization and state failure are increasingly evident in countries where large poor populations that depend on fragile or desertified lands are increasingly exposed to extraordinary weather events, according to the report.

“Climate change is bringing more extreme weather like prolonged droughts and flash floods to more communities – the communities, who are most vulnerable to desertification... World Day to Combat Desertification on the 17th of June is a unique opportunity to remind everyone that land degradation can be effectively tackled and that solutions exist,” according to Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary.

Barbut delivered the remarks in Maseru, the Kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa, via a video-recorded message, at an event organized to kick-start the global campaign leading up to the 17 June World Day.

The campaign promotes an ecosystem-based approach as a way to climate-proof land and secure its productivity for present and future generations. It is spearheaded by the UN and intergovernmental organizations behind the 2010-2020 UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (UNDDD), including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“The loss of arable land to desertification is a huge obstacle to eradicating poverty and hunger,” said Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD. “Every day at IFAD, we are confronted with the human cost of this. Subsistence farmers, nomadic herders and other people who depend on land and rain for their survival are hit the hardest. Their land is less productive and their soil is less resilient."

"For millions of people, halting desertification is a matter of life and death. When people cannot earn an income from the land or feed themselves, they must migrate or starve. If we are going to eliminate rural poverty and make communities more resilient to climate change, we have to address how land and natural resources are managed,” continued Nwanze.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Biodiveristy (CBD) emphasized the importance of the conservation, effective management, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity for ensuring the maintenance of ecosystem services in times of climate variability and change.

“As sister Rio Conventions, the CBD and the UNCCD have many areas of convergence, the most significant being the work to conserve, restore and sustainably utilize dryland ecosystems,” Braulio said.

“In particular, I would like to highlight Aichi Biodiversity Target 15 which calls for the enhancement of the resilience of ecosystems and the restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.”

Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson said "Nowhere else in the world are the threats of desertification more inextricably linked to food security and political and economic stability than in the drylands of Africa. Since its inception, the GEF has been working with all African nations in overcoming these threats by investing in natural resource management innovations that are transformational at scale."

"The GEF commitment is based on the recognition that having farmable land means engaging in good land management practices to fight desertification; making water available to support agriculture keeps rural economies strong; and supporting local livelihoods helps people not to simply survive, but thrive. From the oases of North Africa to the Sahelian region of West Africa and highlands of Eastern Africa, GEF investments have demonstrated time and again that these approaches can make a difference. Let's expand, scale up, do more, and do it better."

A campaign guide with infographics, facts, data and examples of land degradation and sustainable land management were also released at the event that took place during the celebrations of the annual African Environment Day/Wangari Maathai Day being observed today across Africa.

The campaign will peak on 17 June with the observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification in all countries.

Resources are available here

About the UNCCD

Emerging from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment, development and the promotion of sustainable land management. The Convention’s 195 signatory Parties work to alleviate poverty in the drylands by promoting a specific global response to desertification, land gradation and drought. Each Party is expected to agree and deliver against explicit commitments according to the Convention.

For more information contact:

Wagaki Wischnewski
External Relations, Policy and Advocacy Unit
Email: wwischnewski@unccd.int
Tel:  +49-173-268 7593 (mobile)

For interviews contact:

Yukie Hori
Spokesperson, UNCCD Secretariat
Email: yhori@unccd.int
Tel:  +49 228 815 2829
+49 173 268 7590 (mobile)