Desertification and land degradation major problem to meeting MDGs

Land degradation and desertification are among the central issues preventing the international community meeting the Millennium Development Goals, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfor said this week.

Speaking at the seventh meeting of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Nairobi, Mr Toepfor said: "The world's soils are in some ways unique. You can clean up a river or the air, but cleaning up soils is far more difficult. If you lose soils, it can take centuries, if not longer, to replace them."

Desertification or land degradation in arid, or semi-arid and humid areas is a worldwide problem leading to poverty, hunger and forced migration. It affects two-thirds of the agricultural land where the world's poorest people live.

Sixty-six per cent of the African continent is classified as desert or drylands, and 46% as vulnerable to desertification. Similar statistics were reported from Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Southern Europe, UNEP said.

Mr Toepfor added that the targets and timetables from the World Summit on Sustainable Development agreed in 2002, including the rate of loss of biodiversity, will be harder to achieve if land degradation continues.

Satellites from the European Space Agency are being used to track desertification in Europe's most affected areas of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey.

Satellite images can highlight land use changes along with increased surface reflectivity, temperature, dryness and dustiness.

The UNCCD was formed in 1994 in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

David Hopkins



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