BONN, Germany, June 18, 2004 (ENS):
Sixty million people are expected to migrate from the
desert areas of sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa or
Europe by the year 2020, the United Nations body responsible
for stemming the spread of deserts warned on Thursday.
But when they arrive they may find a drier Mediterranean
region than the one that exists today.
Marking its 10th anniversary, the UN Convention to
Combat Desertification (UNCCD), took up the theme of
the social dimensions of the drying up of formerly fertile
lands - migration and poverty.
Since 1990, the UN said, about six million hectares
of productive land have been lost every year around
the world as the land becomes degraded and less fertile.
The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
is commemorated each year on June 17. It is part of
a UN led international campaign to increase awareness
of land degradation.
With an estimated 135 million people at risk of being
driven from their lands because of continuing desertification,
the world must focus more on reversing this trend, UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement.
The Convention now has 191 signatories, and Annan says
the governments of member states must cooperate with
civil society, business and international organizations
to promote more sustainable development so that land
remains arable and does not become desert.
The secretary-general says desertification can reduce
productivity in some regions by as much as half. “It
contributes to food insecurity, famine and poverty,
and can give rise to social, economic and political
tensions that can cause conflicts, further poverty and
land degradation,” Annan said.
Creeping desertification, particularly in sub-Saharan
Africa, is inducing large migration movements as locals
who once farmed in what are now arid areas seek a living
The UNCCD Secretariat estimates that more than one
billion people and one-third of the Earth’s surface
are threatened by desertification.
"It is widely recognized that environmental degradation
has a role to play in considerations of national security
as well as international stability. Therefore, desertification
has been seen as a threat to human security," says
the Convention's Executive Secretary Hama Arba Diallo.
He agrees with security experts gathered at a NATO
workshop in Valencia, Spain last December, who emphasized
desertification in the Mediterranean region as an issue
of military security.
In America, every year, between 700,000 and 900,000
Mexicans leave their rural dryland homes to find a living
as migrant workers in the United States, Diallo points
Many villages have been lost in China to expanding
deserts, sand drifts, dune movement and sandstorms in
the last few decades.
From the Central Qurnah marsh in Iraq, between 80,000
and 120,000 people are estimated to have crossed the
border into Iran, and another 200,000 are thought to
have dispersed throughout Iraq, becoming refugees in
their own country.
In Haiti, as a result of land degradation which reduced
the per capita grain production to half what it was
40 years ago, compounded with chronic political unrest,
1.3 million Haitians have fled their island over the
past two decades.
Among practical measures that can be taken to prevent
and restore degraded land are prevention of soil erosion;
improved early warning system and water resource management;
and sustainable pasture, forest and livestock management.
Many techniques exist such as aero-seeding over shifting
sand dunes; narrow strip planting, windbreaks and shelterbelts
of live plants; agroforestry ecosystems; afforestation
and reforestation; introduction of new species and varieties
with a capacity to tolerate salinity and dryness; and
environmentally sound human settlements.
The Secretariat recognizes that desertification is
both the cause and consequence of poverty.
Because poverty forces the people who depend on land
for their livelihoods to overexploit the land for food,
energy, housing and source of income, any effective
strategy must address poverty at its very center.
Strategies must take into account the social structures
and land ownership of affected people, the UN says,
as well as pay proper attention to education, training
and communications in order to provide the fully integrated
approach which alone can effectively combat desertification.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All