SALINE, Michigan — The World Day to Combat Desertification occurred earlier this week on June 17th, stimulating many discussions about the impact desertification has on those living in poverty.
What is desertification?
The International Fund for Agricultural Development, affiliated with the United Nations (UN), describes desertification as the process that occurs when arid land is overused or misused and it “loses its productive capacity.”
The threat from desertification is becoming increasingly severe. Many impoverished rural areas around the world are experiencing substantial population growth, putting even more pressure on the land.
The scope and severity of land degradation can be overwhelming. IFAD research has found that desertification “affects more than 1 billion people and 40 percent of the earth’s surface. In the severest cases, the land becomes infertile and useless, precipitating famine and drought. Every year, 12 million [hectares]of land are lost to desertification, and the rate is increasing.”
What is being done about it?
Almost 200 states are currently part of The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which was created in 1994 and aims “to forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.”
The convention’s current strategy is centered on four objectives, the first being to aid populations affected by desertification. The methods outlined to achieve this goal include diversifying sources of income for vulnerable communities, introducing more sustainable agricultural techniques and improving resistance to climate shocks.
The second objective involves creating healthier ecosystems by sustainably improving the productivity of the land and reducing vulnerability to climate change, ultimately decreasing the amount of land affected by desertification.
Replenishing the world’s ecosystems by supporting plant and forest growth is the central aim of the third objective, as deforestation can lead to land degradation.
Lastly, the fourth objective aims to increase funding and support for UNCCD efforts, and to lobby for international environmental policies to include desertification.
Decreasing the current amount of land degradation and preventing any further damage will not only lift people out of poverty, but there is also research to suggest it may help stem conflict.
“If we are to restore peace, security and international stability in a context where changing weather events are threatening the livelihoods of more and more people, survival options are declining and state capacities are overburdened,” a UN report stated, “then more should be done to combat desertification, reverse land degradation and mitigate the effects of drought.”
Hopefully the UN’s advocacy efforts will improve the global response to desertification, protecting current and future generations and allowing struggling agricultural communities around the world to thrive again.