International World Day To Combat Desertification And Drought – OpEd


The International World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed annually on June 17th. It aims to raise awareness about the issues of desertification, land degradation, and drought and promote efforts to combat these challenges. The United Nations General Assembly established the day in 1994 as a response to the United Nations Convention on Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Desertification is closely linked to climate change, as both phenomena are interconnected and mutually reinforce each other. Climate change exacerbates desertification through various mechanisms like changes in precipitation patterns, rising temperature,  increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and feedback mechanisms.

Climate change can alter rainfall patterns, decreasing precipitation and increasing drought conditions in certain regions, expanding arid and semi-arid areas and promoting desertification. Global warming associated with climate change leads to higher temperatures, which can intensify evaporation rates and soil moisture loss. This can result in reduced soil fertility, decreased agricultural productivity, and increased vulnerability to desertification. Climate change is associated with an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, cyclones, and heavy rainfall. These events can cause soil erosion, loss of vegetation cover, and land degradation, accelerating desertification processes. Desertification contributes to climate change through feedback mechanisms. Degraded and desertified lands have reduced capacity to sequester carbon dioxide, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other climate change impacts.

Desertification affects numerous countries worldwide, particularly those with arid and semi-arid climates. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), around 169 countries are affected by desertification, with varying degrees of severity. These countries span multiple continents, including parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Addressing desertification requires a multi-faceted and integrated approach. Several South Asian countries are affected by desertification and drought to varying degrees. The extent and severity of desertification and drought vary within each country. It is important to note that the extent and severity of desertification and drought can vary within each country, with some regions being more severely affected than others. Factors such as climate variability, water management practices, land-use patterns, and environmental degradation influence the rate of desertification and drought impact in specific areas.

Here is an overview of desertification and drought in South Asian countries:

Afghanistan: Afghanistan is also affected by desertification and drought. The country has large arid and semi-arid areas, particularly in the central and southwestern regions. Water scarcity and land degradation contribute to agricultural challenges and affect the livelihoods of rural communities.

Bangladesh: While Bangladesh is not primarily known for arid environments, the country faces the issue of drought in certain regions, particularly during dry seasons. Prolonged droughts can impact crop production, water availability, and livelihoods in affected areas.

India: India has diverse climatic zones, including regions prone to desertification and drought. States like Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra, and certain areas in the Deccan Plateau experience arid or semi-arid conditions. These regions face challenges such as soil erosion, land degradation, and water scarcity, impacting agriculture and livelihoods.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka generally has a tropical climate with ample rainfall. However, some regions, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country, experience arid or semi-arid conditions and are vulnerable to desertification and drought. These areas face challenges related to water scarcity and land degradation.

In the case of Pakistan, desertification and drought pose significant challenges, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions such as Balochistan, Thar Desert, and parts of Sindh and Punjab. These areas are prone to desertification and experience water scarcity and land degradation, leading to decreased agricultural productivity and loss of natural habitats. No doubt Pakistan’s water crisis is predominantly an anthropogenic phenomenon. Pakistan’s climate is not particularly dry; it is semi-arid to arid, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Impoverished management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the massive pollution. Today, millions of Pakistanis lack access to clean drinking water, and the situation is getting worse every day. Water scarcity, land degradation, and decreasing agricultural productivity are vital concerns. For example, the Thar Desert in the Sindh province experiences water scarcity, soil erosion, and desertification, affecting local communities and ecosystems. Addressing these challenges requires a combination of sustainable land management practices, efficient water resource management, and climate change adaptation strategies.

Here are some critical solutions to combat desertification:

Sustainable Land Management: Implementing sustainable land management practices is crucial to prevent and reverse desertification. This involves adopting soil conservation techniques, agroforestry, terracing, water conservation measures, and appropriate land-use planning to promote sustainable land use and restore degraded lands.

Reforestation and Afforestation: Planting trees and restoring forests can help combat desertification by preventing soil erosion, improving water retention, and enhancing biodiversity. Reforestation and afforestation projects should focus on using native species that are well-adapted to the local environment.

Water Management: Efficient water management practices are vital for preventing desertification. This includes capturing and storing rainwater, implementing irrigation systems that minimize water waste, and promoting efficient water use in agriculture and other sectors.

Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Addressing climate change through mitigation and adaptation strategies is crucial to combat desertification. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy, and integrating climate change considerations into land and natural resource management are essential components of the solution.

Community Participation and Awareness: Engaging local communities, empowering them with knowledge, and involving them in decision-making processes are essential to successfully combating desertification. Local communities often possess valuable traditional knowledge and practices that can contribute to sustainable land management.

International Cooperation and Support: International collaboration and financial support are necessary to address desertification on a global scale. Supporting affected countries with technology transfer, capacity-building, and financial assistance can enhance their ability to combat desertification effectively.

It is essential to recognize that combating desertification requires a long-term commitment to address the immediate and underlying causes of land degradation. Integrated approaches, combined with effective governance, policies, and international cooperation, are essential to achieving sustainable land management and mitigating the impacts of desertification in the face of climate change.

On this day, various activities and events are organized worldwide to highlight the importance of combating desertification and drought and encourage global, regional, and local action. Some common ways in which the day is celebrated include:

Awareness Campaigns: Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and environmental groups organize awareness campaigns to educate the public about the causes, impacts, and prevention of desertification, land degradation, and drought. These campaigns often include workshops, seminars, conferences, and public lectures.

Community Engagement: Local communities in affected areas participate in activities that promote sustainable land management practices and raise awareness about the importance of conserving and rehabilitating degraded lands. This can involve tree-planting initiatives, clean-up drives, and educational programs.

Policy Advocacy: Governments and organizations use the occasion to advocate for policies and measures that address desertification, land degradation, and drought. They may hold policy forums, roundtable discussions, and workshops to encourage stakeholder dialogue and collaboration.

International Conferences: International conferences and forums are held to discuss and share experiences, research, and best practices in combating desertification and drought. These gatherings bring together policymakers, scientists, experts, and practitioners to exchange knowledge and develop strategies for effective action.

Media Campaigns: Media outlets are crucial in disseminating information and raising awareness. Television programs, radio broadcasts, online campaigns, and articles are created to highlight the significance of combatting desertification and drought and showcase success stories and innovative solutions.

Exhibitions and Artistic Displays: Art exhibitions, photo contests, and other artistic displays are organized to creatively depict the issues of desertification, land degradation, and drought. These events help to engage the public emotionally and generate empathy and support for addressing these challenges.

The International World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is a platform for global cooperation, knowledge-sharing, and action towards sustainable land management practices. It encourages individuals, communities, organizations, and governments to work together in addressing these pressing environmental issues.

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