World Day to Combat Desertification

By - Smt. Kalpana Palkhiwala (Assistant Director ( M & C), PIB, New Delhi)

The World Day to Combat Desertification is celebrated every year on June 17 all over the world in order to highlight the urgent need to curb the process of desertification and to strengthen the visibility of this serious drylands issue on the international environmental agenda.

17 June constitutes a unique occasion to remind everybody that desertification can be effectively tackled, that solutions are possible, and that key tools to this aim lay in strengthened community participation and co-operation at all levels. The theme of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, “Desertification and Climate Change — One Global Challenge”, reminds us that climate change and desertification interact with each other at a variety of levels. They are two major manifestations of the same problem. And together they seriously threaten our ability to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Another environmental issue of growing urgency today is climate change. This is reflected in the theme for this year’s World Day, which focuses on the important synergy between desertification and climate change. The Day will draw attention to the significant benefits of an integrated approach to tackling these two major environmental challenges.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 17 the “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought” to promote public awareness and the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.

Ever since, country parties to the Convention, organizations of the United Nations System, international and non-governmental organizations and other interested stakeholders have celebrated this particular day with a series of outreach activities worldwide.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only internationally recognized, legally binding instrument that addresses the problem of land degradation in the drylands and which enjoys a truly universal membership of 193 country parties. It plays a key role in global efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve sustainable development and reach the Millennium Development Goals, in particular with regard to the eradication of extreme poverty. As we approach the halfway stage in the timetable for achieving these goals, the need to fully implement the Convention is becoming increasingly urgent.

The objective of this Convention is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, through effective action at all levels, supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21, with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in affected areas. The long-term integrated strategies will improve productivity, rehabilitation and conservation particularly at the community level.

The principles of this convention are to achieve the objectives of this Convention and to implement its provisions, the member countries i.e. parties implement programmes with the participation of populations and local communities in a spirit of international solidarity and partnership to work towards sustainable development.

This year’s celebration is very important since the adoption of the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention represents a turning point in the UNCCD process and recognizes the convention as an instrument to prevent, control and reverse desertification/land degradation and also to contribute to the reduction of poverty while promoting sustainable development.

The Convention is the only internationally recognized, legally binding instrument that addresses the problem of land degradation in dryland. It enjoys a truly universal membership of 193 parties. Country parties, organizations of the United Nations System, international and non-governmental organizations are invited to organize events to celebrate the World Day to Combat Desertification as an additional opportunity to increase awareness and participation in the implementation process.

The Secretary-General’s message says, “Desertification is not only one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges; it is also a major impediment to meeting basic human needs in drylands. It puts at risk the health and well-being of 1.2 billion people in more than 100 countries. World’s Two thirds of the poor live in drylands, about half in farm households where environmental degradation threatens the agricultural production on which their livelihoods depend.

The causes of desertification are varied and complex. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, adopted 13 years ago, aims to promote concrete action through innovative local, national, sub-regional and regional programmes and supportive international partnerships. However, degradation of the global environment continues at an alarming pace which makes implementation of the Convention ever more urgent.

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing our world to get warmer. We are already experiencing the impact of climate change, with adverse effects felt in many areas. And for people living in dry areas, especially in Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.

Global warming will have a dramatic impact on already weakened soils. This trend will, in turn, worsen desertification and increase the prevalence of poverty, forced migration and vulnerability to conflicts in affected areas. Conversely, concerted efforts to combat desertification — by reclaiming degraded land, combating soil loss and restoring vegetation — can help curb greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the resilience of affected countries and build their capacity to adapt to climate change.

On this World Day, let us strive to address desertification and climate change in a synergetic fashion, as part of an integrated approach to achieving sustainable development for all.”

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