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 elsewhere.
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 out.
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
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