The recent famine in Niger brought home the ravaging consequences of drought and desertification, and delegates to an international conference say finding ways to combat these problems can help alleviate poverty and hunger. The conference opened in Nairobi Monday.
The executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Hama Arba Diallo, says he has personally seen the effects of desertification in his native Burkina Faso and neighboring Niger.
"Over the last four or five years, we have been seeing a shifting, in terms of rainy season, a rainy season, which becomes very unpredictable as to when it would start, how long it would last and what is the intensity," he said. "If the seasons change that way, then our farmers, our cattle breeders are at a loss as to what to do or when to do it."
Mr. Diallo says drought and desertification are both causes and effects of poverty.
When large areas of land are cleared for farming, ranching, logging, or other activities, the loss of tree cover eventually results in erratic and reduced rainfalls and soil erosion.
As the land becomes more arid and eroded, farmers find it harder and harder to eke out a living. The land subsequently is over-cultivated and over-grazed, and more land is cleared to continue farming and other activities, further spreading erosion and arid land.
Kenyan Environment Minister Kalonzo Musyoka says desertification in one country affects an entire region. He cites Somalia as an example.
"Because of instability in Somalia over the last decade and beyond, they have in that country cut down, literally, I wouldn't say all the trees, but charcoal trade in Somalia has been booming," he said. "This is a neighboring country, and all that has an effect on our own situation in this country. So, encroaching deserts is a reality in Kenya."
Mr. Musyoka says about 80 percent of Kenyan land is arid and semi-arid.
The United Nations estimates that more than 5.2 billion hectares and one billion people in more than 100 countries are affected by desertification.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, opened for signing in 1994, calls for member countries to implement measures to prevent or reduce land degradation, and rehabilitate or reclaim degraded land.
Delegates from the 191 member-countries party to the convention will be looking at how countries are protecting the environment, reducing poverty and taking other measures to implement the agreement. Ministers of environment, foreign affairs, and agriculture are among those attending the 11-day meeting.