19.06.2017 |

Restore degraded land to give rural people better chances, UN urges

Increased frequency of droughts can lead to land degradation (Photo: CC0)

UN agencies have called for better management of land to combat desertification since land degradation is forcing people to flee their homes. On World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17, they promoted public awareness of land degradation under this year’s theme “Our Land. Our Home. Our Future.”, with a focus on making the land and life in rural communities viable for young people. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are directly affected by desertification, the degradation of land ecosystems due to unsustainable farming or mining practices, or climate change. “Population growth means demand for food and water is set to double by 2050 but crop yields are projected to fall precipitously on drought affected, degraded land. More than 1.3 billion people, mostly in the rural areas of developing countries, are in this situation,” said Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Across the world, land degradation is forcing people to flee their homes and countries. According to estimates, nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile land – an area more than half the size of China – have been completely abandoned due to drought, desertification and land mismanagement. “Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation,” Barbut warned.

Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, echoed that land degradation affects where and how people live. “It drives human displacement by threatening lives over the short term and making people’s livelihoods untenable over the long term, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.” If more land is getting lost to desertification, rural populations who rely on pastoral livelihoods, agriculture and natural resources will face additional threats such as increasing poverty and poor levels of education. This is why the subject of land also features prominently on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Goal 15, in particular, calls for combatting desertification, and undertaking efforts to halt and reverse land degradation. To address this growing threat, Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, called for a double approach: First, better land management to arrest desertification and preserve the productivity of farmland and second, strengthening resilience of vulnerable populations by supporting alternative livelihoods. Ms Barbut also believes that with the right type of investments in land, rural infrastructure and skills development, once degraded lands can build resilience to extreme weather-elements like drought and can provide not just enough to get by, but new opportunities for young, rural populations: “We need policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land… Let us give young people the chance to bring that natural capital back to life and into production.” (ab)

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