Makhtesh Ramon, Negev desert, Israel
Makhtesh Ramon, Negev desert, Israel


Another Step Towards Halting Desertification – Analysis

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By Ramesh Jaura

When representatives of 194 States and the European Union, which are parties to one of the landmark global conventions, meet in the Namibian capital Windhoek from September 16 to 27, they will focus on intensifying efforts for ushering in a world free of poverty generating DLLD – desertification, land degradation and drought.

The significance of this herculean task lies in the fact that unlike flood disasters and tsunamis, whose catastrophic impact is easily brought into drawing rooms around the world, land degradation befalls soil like creeping cancer and its appalling dimensions often elude the eye of a camera.

Though, as American naturalist Charles Kellogg wrote in 1938: “Essentially all life depends upon the soil. There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” And, as Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says, fertile soil is indeed among the world’s most significant non-renewable and finite resources. It is a key element, which sustains life on the Earth and provides us with water, food, fodder and fuels.

Land degradation has already adversely affected 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land with dire consequences for the poorest of the poor. More than one billion people inhabiting drylands in some 100 countries are caught in the pangs of poverty and excruciating hunger.

Every minute, 23 hectares of land are degraded through drought and desertification, eating into the economic, social and environmental pillars of our sustainable development. 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, literally, hangs on the arid zone forests.

All this underlines the importance of the combating DLLD under the umbrella of the UNCCD, which is one of the three conventions emerging from the Earth Summit in June 1992.

The focus in Windhoek at the eleventh session of the Conference of Parties (COP11) will be on “a stronger UNCCD for a Land-Degradation Neutral World”. It will build upon the results of the second and third UNCCD scientific conferences and review the progress after the completion of the first half of the 10-Year Strategy of the UNCCD (2008-2018). COP11 sessions will deal with financing, knowledge brokering and the Rio+20 outcome on land degradation, desertification and drought, informs the UNCCD secretariat.

The decision to strive for a world free of land degradation and drought – officially termed as a “land-degradation neutral world” – was agreed at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012. This entails avoiding land degradation and restoring for every hectare of degraded land a hectare of land preferably in the same ecosystem and landscape. A land-degradation neutral world is in fact a prerequisite for assuring water, food and energy security, alleviating poverty and mitigating climate change.

“We have to make sure that this aspirational goal does not stay on the paper, but is operationalized into attainable targets. We need to learn from the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) lessons and make sure that land preservation and restoration takes its deserved place in the post-2015 global development agenda,” says UNCCD Executive Secretary Gnacadja.

Comprehensive communication strategy

A prerequisite of success in achieving the ambitious goal of “a land-degradation neutral world” is a comprehensive communication strategy (CCS). In a note to COP 11, the UNCCD secretariat highlights steps taken to implement the strategy.

The previous session of the COP affirmed that the implementation of the CCS is central to coordinated and targeted awareness-raising activities that support the effective implementation of 10-year strategy. The two-year work programme (2012-2013) for the secretariat on advocacy, awareness-raising and education was designed on this basis.

As a result, the ‘Land for Life Award’ was launched at COP 10 in South Korea as part of the proposed ‘Changwon initiative’, as a contribution to the CCS. The 2012 Award received financial support from Elion Resources Group, China; the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ); the Korea Forest Service; the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) provided in-kind support.

The Land for Life Award is the global award that focuses solely on recognizing organizations and individuals working to restore degraded lands and improve soil’s natural health and productive capacity. After now running two cycles (2012 and 2013), it has indeed served as a substantive new platform to raise awareness about the problems and solutions of desertification and land degradation.

According to the UNCCD secretariat, “with future support from donors, the award has the potential to become a prestigious recognition for those working to combat land degradation around the world, as well as to provide the means to scale up promising new strategies for sustainable land management (SLM) for food security.”

Another plank of the CCS is the training and capacity development among journalists and environmental correspondents in order to develop “a core group of actors” whose primary focus is on desertification, land degradation and drought. This, in turn, encourages increase in media coverage about the challenges of land degradation and best practices of SLM in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Subsequently, regional workshops have been conducted in Asia and the West and North Africa regions. A third workshop, for the Latin American region, is scheduled to take place later in 2013. Participants are selected following a public call posted on the UNCCD website, and circulated through the UNCCD media mailing list and lists of partners. In addition to basic qualification criteria for selecting journalists, attention is also given to type of medium, language, gender and country representation.

Each workshop lasts three days, with two full days being dedicated to presentations by local and international experts, including government representatives, civil society organisations and scientists, and one full day to field visits. Each journalist is required to file at least two stories during and/or within two months following the event, and to submit the published articles to the secretariat. The articles are posted on the UNCCD website, and the secretariat has maintained communication with the participants.

The Bonn secretariat informs that, as the dynamics of land, climate and biodiversity are intimately connected, the UNCCD is collaborating closely with the other two Rio Conventions; the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to meet these complex challenges with an integrated approach and the best possible use of natural resources.

Considering that the three UN conventions are of far-reaching importance, much closer cooperation would certainly help to heal the wounds inflicted on Planet Earth by human ruthlessness.

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