UN puts desertification under spotlight

Officials from around the world have gathered in Turkey to take part in a United Nations conference looking at how to fight the effects of desertification and drought.

More than 1,000 people from 193 countries that are part of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) attended the opening day of the conference, in Istanbul, on Monday.

In his opening address, UNCCD executive secretary Luc Gnacadja said the problem is closely linked to climate change.

“[They are] in reality two sides of the same coin – two environmental phenomena connected to each other – that together reduce biological diversity and threaten human survival,” he said.

Land and soil degradation are under-recognised threats to global well-being, Mr Gnacadja said, warning that global action will be needed to tackle desertification.

“In some 150 years, humanity in its search for progress created the ‘carbon civilisation’,” he said. “By doing this, we degraded not only the atmosphere but also the ground.”

Desertification has its greatest impact in Africa, where two-thirds of the country is desert or drylands.

According to UN statistics, it is also a major problem in parts of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the northern Mediterranean, and central and eastern Europe.

However, water shortages and droughts – which are among the factors that cause desertification – are now becoming commonplace in more industrialised nations such as the US (see related story) and Australia (see related story).

The conference, which will run until November 14, marks the seventh meeting of the committee appointed to put the convention’s aims into practice since it came into force twelve years ago.

It follows last year’s adoption of a new ten-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the convention, known as The Strategy.

Kate Martin

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