“Our land. Our home. Our Future”
This year’s theme is intended to draw attention to the role productive land can play in reducing the growing tide of migrants. Mass migration is increasingly becoming an international emergency and creating many security issues throughout Europe. 100 of the 169 countries affected by desertification are setting targets to end land degradation by 2030.
In 2015, the consequences of environmental degradation (food insecurity, poverty, political instability and wars) caused an estimated 244 million people to leave their homes and the numbers are continuing to grow rapidly. The world is struggling desperately to try to cope with these migrants and it is only leading to further conflict. By combating desertification and land degradation the UN hopes to reverse this trend and once again make their communities stable, secure and sustainable.
Desertification is not the advance of deserts, but rather the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems caused by human activity and climatic variations. It occurs when the tree and plant cover that binds the soil is removed, whether for fuel or timber, to clear the land for cultivation or by overgrazing. Intensive farming can deplete the nutrients, wind and erosion aggravate the damage leaving you with an infertile mix of dust and sand. Contributing factors may also include drought, people moving to environmentally fragile areas to escape conflict and mining, all accelerated by climate change.
Desertification can have far reaching consequences. The effects of dust storms and sedimentation of water bodies can be felt thousands of kilometers away. It is a threat to biodiversity and can lead to prolonged episodes of famine. Desertification does not have to be inevitable. By controlling overgrazing, clear-cutting of land and improving agricultural practices, desertification can be averted.
In 1974 the UN created the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to tackle rural poverty and combat land degradation and desertification. In Niger they established the tree regeneration program that re-established the productivity of the area. They introduced irrigation schemes and technology into Sombras Grandes in north-eastern Brazil that allowed the residents to become self-sustaining and halt the migration of the residents to the cities to look for work. IFAD has restored vegetation to 1/3 of the Syrian Badia, a 10 million hectare area in eastern Syrian Arab Republic, so the Bedouin herders can continue to graze the area. In 2001 IFAD was recognized for its proven expertise in rural sustainable development and land management.
No continent (with the exception of Antarctica) is immune from desertification. The problem is particularly acute in Africa, boasting 37% of the world’s arid zones and severe in Asia, encompassing 33% of these arid zones. Airborne particles affecting cloud formation and rainfall patterns have been implicated in respiratory problems in North America, visibility in Beijing and have affected Caribbean reefs.
The Great Plains area of the USA suffered desertification in the 1930’s commonly referred to as the Dust Bowl. Catastrophic dust storms whipped across the plains, eroded soil, reduced visibility and caused lung illnesses. With the current drought being experienced in the southwest the risk of desertification is now a concern in that area of the country.
Desertification is a global problem and with the climate change we are currently experiencing, only becoming more urgent. It is something we must all take steps to resolve to ensure our future food supply.