Creating a better future
On the World Day to Combat Desertification, media around the world wrote about the importance of restoring lands and soils. Meanwhile delegates met at the Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development during a high level meeting on Securing Healthy Soils and Stopping Land Degradation.
Here are a few news highlights:
Live coverage of ‘Desertification Day’
(17 June, RTCC)
The #RioPavilion is hosting Desertification Day – focused on sustainable land management, degradation and real debate on what can be done to prevent thousands of hectares of the earth’s surface from becoming unusable
1200 While delegates in RioCentro arrive bleary eyed after last night’s talks…the athlete’s park across the road is buzzing. This is home to UN agencies, international stands, company exhibits and the best coffee in Rio – at the Italy Pavilion – a construction from hemp, cardboard and bamboo.
1230 Key points from this morning’s session at the Rio Pavilion…
- Desertification is still seen as a domestic issue. Situation now critical. Need a global appreciation of danger
- 1.6 billion extra people on planet since first Rio summit in 1992; food provision is becoming critical
- @UNCCD boss Luc Gnacadja calls for strong text on land management at otherwise we face conflict + famine
- UNFF’s Jan McAlpine: soil is the blood in our planet’s veins. It’s time we treated it with the respect it deserves
- Benin’s Minister for Environment tells us they need more investment and funding in Africa to develop sustainable land strategies
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Just Planting Trees Won’t Stop March of Deserts
(16 June, Pacific Standard, Judith Schwartz)
While deserts expand and shrink naturally over geologic time periods, the desertification of today is not “natural.” It’s driven by human action, such as over-cultivation, deforestation, and poor livestock management. Today 1.5 billion people depend for their food and livelihoods on land that is losing its capacity to sustain vegetation. It’s been estimated that half of today’s armed conflicts can be partly attributed to environmental strains associated with dryland degradation. A number of scholars cite desertification as a key factor in the fall of some civilizations: think Carthage, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Rome.
To combat the advance of deserts, most governments and NGOs say planting trees is the best way to halt encroaching sands. Two field scientists are addressing the problem from very different directions, Allan Savory and Chris Reij, agree that while trees are part of the answer, but their work eschews planting them.
“Planting trees cannot reverse desertification in most places because the desertifying land generally has too low a rainfall for full soil cover from tree leaf fall litter,” Savory says, “and exposed soil leads to less effective rainfall.” His solution relies not on trees, but on animals.
Reij admires the work of Yacouba Sawadogo of Burkina Faso, featured in the film “The Man Who Stopped the Desert.” “Yacouba had a lot of land that was degraded. Nothing was growing,” Reij recounts. “He took a traditional technique, digging basins, or zai pits. He made the pits deeper, to collect more rainwater, and added manure, to nourish plants, and used these to grow crops and trees. He started a 15-hectare forest this way.”
These trees, he notes, weren’t intentionally planted: “We’re talking about protecting and managing trees that grow spontaneously on farmers’ fields. A lot of tree planting has not been very successful. The survival rate of trees planted in drylands is only about 20 percent. Yet it’s continued year after year despite not such a good track record.”
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12-year-old Dubai girl wins in UN competition
(18 June, Janice Ponce de Leon, GulfNews)
A 12-year-old girl from Dubai was awarded as one of the four global winners of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification on Sunday.
Speaking to Gulf News from Brazil, Basu said: “Receiving a United Nations award is very very special. I think it is very important for children to be responsible for the future and we cannot let someone else take care of it on our behalf. Through my essays, I wish to shock people out of their complacency and take action.”
Basu, the youngest among the 700 delegates from 112 countries who attended the Youth Blast, the Rio+20 Conference for Youth, said that the youth group in the conference is “very concerned by the fact that they are not a part of the decision-making process.”
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‘Desertification is nearly as critical as climate change’
(18 June, KPM Basheer, The Hindu)
Interview with Dr. Mansour N'Diaye, Chef De Cabinet of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification secretariat
What will be the role of the upcoming Rio+20 conference in the fight against desertification?
The Rio+20 role will be very crucial as world leaders can take a bold decision of setting a sustainable development goal for “zero net land degradation.” We are pushing for an agreement on zero net land degradation by 2030. Setting up of an Intergovernmental Panel on Land and Soil will be very helpful in speeding up efforts to check desertification. Desertification is nearly as critical as climate change and international initiative on climate change and biodiversity loss should have linkages and synergies with steps against desertification. Unfortunately, people are not as aware of the impact of desertification as they are of climate change. The Rio+20 meeting can bring in desertification on the sustainable development agenda. It can also agree to give more legal teeth to the UNCCD.
Steps to check desertification and rehabilitating degraded lands are expensive and time-consuming. How can poor countries rise to the challenge?
Of course, the battle against desertification calls for long-term commitment and investment. There is no alternative. Regional, sub-regional and country-level plans are necessary for Africa and Asia to reclaim deserts and restore them to fertile farmlands. Developing countries need to integrate their poverty eradication programmes with strategies to fight desertification. They could also earmark a certain share of their annual budgets for the efforts. The soil and land preservation efforts should be prioritised and mainstreamed. The funds for climate change mitigation and adaptation could be dovetailed to the anti-desertification programme. In Africa, several countries have come together to form a 12,000 sq.km “great green wall” extending from Senegal to Djibouti with the participation of local communities. People's participation is crucial in reclaiming lands. China's “great green wall” project is on a massive scale and is now starting to show results.
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