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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

3.2bn people under threat of desertification, drought, says UN chief

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that a combination of land degradation from climate change and the expansion of agriculture, cities and infrastructures, are undermining the well-being of 3.2 billion people across the globe.

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

Guterres said this in his message on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 to mark World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, globally celebrated on June 17.

Its purpose is to raise awareness on desertification and drought, highlighting methods of preventing desertification and recovering from drought

“Humanity is waging a relentless, self-destructive war on nature. Biodiversity is declining, greenhouse gas concentrations are rising and our pollution can be found from the remotest islands to the highest peaks.

“We must make peace with nature,” he said.

The top UN official said that while “land can be our greatest ally”, currently it’s “suffering”. Land degradation is harming biodiversity and enabling infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, to emerge.

“Restoring degraded land would remove carbon from the atmosphere, help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change and generate an extra $1.4 trillion in agricultural production each year.’’

And best of all, land restoration is “simple, inexpensive and accessible to all”, he added, calling it “one of the most democratic and pro-poor ways of accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

“To meet an ever-growing demand for food, raw materials, roads and homes, humans have altered nearly three quarters of the earth’s surface, beyond land that is permanently frozen.

“Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems now is both urgent and important for a swift recovery from the pandemic and for guaranteeing the long-term survival of people and the planet.

“Restoring degraded land brings economic resilience, creates jobs, raises incomes and increases food security,’’ according to the UN chief.

Moreover, it helps biodiversity to recover and locks away carbon, while lessening the impacts of climate change and underpinning a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”, Guterres noted, while calling on everyone to “make healthy land central to all our planning”.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), pointed to the “dramatic impact” that desertification was having on “our common environmental heritages”, posing a “considerable threat” to the health of communities, global peace and sustainable development.

Having contributed to the collapse of biodiversity and promoting zoonoses, she called desertification “another reminder” that human health and that of the environment, were “deeply intertwined”.

Desertification and drought also increase water scarcity, at a time when two billion people still lacked access to safe drinking water, said Azoulay, adding that “over three billion may have to confront a similar situation by 2050”.

Quoting the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, she said that, by 2030, the phenomenon would likely cause 135 million people to migrate worldwide.

“These migrations and deprivations are in turn a source of conflict and instability, demonstrating that desertification is also a fundamental challenge to peace,” she stressed.

Underscoring that “working together is crucial,’’ the UNESCO chief maintained that sustainable progress cannot be achieved without the participation of everyone, especially the youth.

“Together, let us build a sustainable future so that the fertile lands of the past do not become deserts emptied of their populations and their biodiversity,” she added.

By Cecilia Ologunagba

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