UN holds desertification summit in Spain

Delegates from 191 countries are meeting in Madrid this month for the presentation of a plan to tackle desertification in the world's poorest countries.

The eighth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) began on Monday (September 3) and ends next Friday (September 14).

It includes the presentation of a highly anticipated ten-year plan for the UNCCD aimed at helping preserve the livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest people in the face of desertification.

Gregoire de Kalbermatten, officer-in-charge of the UNCCD, said: “The ten-year strategic plan comes at a significant time, on the eve of the 16th and 17th sessions of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, which will focus on Africa, agriculture, rural development, land degradation, desertification and drought.”

Desertification affects nearly one quarter of the earth’s land area and about one sixth of the world’s population.

It causes widespread hunger, poverty, forced migration, conflicts, sand storms and forest fires.

Implementing the UNCCD is described as increasingly urgent as climate change worsens the impact of desertification.

A report issued in June by the United Nations University states climate change is making it “the greatest environmental challenge of our times”.

It warns unless action is taken to address the resulting threat to rural livelihoods some 50 million people could be displaced within the next 10 years.

Africa is worst hit by the problem but the droughts and forest fires that ravaged parts of southern Europe mean it is a global problem.

Host country Spain suffered its worst droughts in 60 years in 2005 and its environment ministry has warned that one third of the country is at “high” or “very high” risk of becoming desert.

The country is also facing an influx of environmental refugees as a result of desertification elsewhere.

David Gibbs

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