Droughts do not happen overnight
While calling for urgent relief for drought victims in the Horn of Africa, the executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification has emphasised the need for effective long-term solutions, such as the implementation of drought management systems and measures to combat creeping desertification, to tackle the root causes of the famine.
AS the international community struggles to provide all possible assistance to more than 11 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya - adversely affected by the lack of food and long spell of drought - Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Luc Gnacadja, has drawn attention to the often ignored fact that 'droughts do not happen overnight'.
UNCCD emerged from the Earth Summit in June 1992 in
While calling on the international community to respond urgently to the unfolding crisis, Gnacadja stressed the need for effective long-term solutions to the root causes of famine in drought-prone regions. Such solutions lie in implementation of drought management systems and measures to put a halt to creeping desertification stemming from acute land degradation in drylands.
After all, neither desertification, nor land degradation, nor droughts are God-given. They are triggered by human activities and climate change, much of which is influenced by human beings.
A widespread but misguided belief is that drylands are wastelands or marginal lands with low productivity and low adaptive capacity where poverty is inevitable, contribute little to national prosperity and yield no good return on investments, Gnacadja told a Forum on Human Security in Switzerland on 15 July.
The fact is rather that drylands comprise one-third of the world land mass and population, 44% of the global food production system, and 50% of the world's livestock. In addition, dry forests are home to the world's largest diversity of mammals whose survival hangs on the arid zone forests.
'Feed me to feed you'
Traditional wisdom has it that dire consequences result from continuously ignoring repeated cries for help by what multiple communities across the globe call Mother Earth: 'Feed me to feed you.' If not handled with care, land suffers from utter degradation and becomes acutely vulnerable to desertification that does not allow even a blade of grass to grow.
Presently, extreme poverty, increased emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, food insecurity and hunger, instability and crisis, increased water stress, biodiversity loss, and migrations are putting a huge stress on land.
This prompted the UNCCD Executive Secretary to declare, 'We are the desert-making species on earth.' Gnacadja added: 'We are the planet's skin disease.' Millions in drylands are being forced to move to more productive land, and this is a major cause of conflict.
is high time, therefore, to grasp some of the traditional wisdom such
as the one enshrined in the Vedas, a large body of texts originating
Gnacadja cited one important passage from the Vedas: 'Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.'
Presently because of the agricultural system being under stress, some 925 million people are going hungry, 80% of them smallholder farmers and landless poor in rural areas. Providing food for an additional three billion people by 2050 requires a 70% increase in global food production.
food prices are expected to continue to be higher in the next decade.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute in
The specific challenges when it comes to major drylands are: climatic and ecological challenges that limit production; economic challenges such as low investment, poor infrastructure and limited access to market; policy and institutional challenges involving low national priority, poor land and natural resources governance, limited access to knowledge and information; socio-cultural aspects such as nomadic lifestyles; demography, and conflicts in some countries.
So much depends on so little
'So much depends on so little, and we are not really tackling the root causes,' Gnacadja rightly pointed out. Humanity must double its food production to feed nine billion people, as the 'vicious cycle of poverty' worsens. Eight out of 10 conflicts in the world are in dryland areas.
'We need to take action, but the good news is that people are taking action at a grassroots level. There is land improvement in many dryland areas, because people are striving to adapt. We need to support their efforts.' He called for a governance for 'holistic management', and a greater focus on 'the forgotten billion', the poorest people in the world.
The costs of inaction are far higher than action, the UNCCD Executive Secretary warned. Desertification and land degradation is closely related to the problems of food security and political stability, a complex mix that all go into 'human security'.
There are a multitude of reasons to advance the fight against desertification, he said:
1. Drylands hold the key to future food security.
2. Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) contributes to human security and political stability.
3. We cannot adapt to climate change or mitigate its effects without resorting to sustainable land management.
4. It will be impossible to protect the planet against the loss of terrestrial biodiversity without addressing DLDD.
5. We cannot protect our forests without addressing the top driver of deforestation: DLDD.
6. It will be impossible to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) without rescuing 'the forgotten billion', the poorest among the poor living in drylands.
Realising the significance of the issue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 17 June, the World Day to Combat Desertification: 'We need to reward those who make drylands productive, so they will prosper and others will seek to emulate their example.'
is with this in view that the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting
on 20 September in
ministers will discuss ways out of desertification, land degradation
and drought at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the UNCCD,
which will be held on 10-21 October in
will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference
on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit,
*Third World Resurgence No. 251/252, July/August 2011, pp 13-14