News / Africa

UN: Don’t Let Our Future Dry Up

Desertification means land has degraded to the point where it can no longer hold water, says UN Convention to Combat desertification. Credit: UNCCD
Desertification means land has degraded to the point where it can no longer hold water, says UN Convention to Combat desertification. Credit: UNCCD

Multimedia

Audio
  • Listen to De Capua report on combating desertification

Joe DeCapua
June 17 is World Day to Combat Desertification. In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit described desertification as one of the greatest challenges to development. This year’s theme is drought and water scarcity.


Water covers most of our planet,  but only about two and a half percent of it is freshwater. And of that small amount, U.N. experts say, “The total useable supply for ecosystems and humans is less than one percent.” This year’s World Day to Combat Desertification slogan is: Don’t Let Our Future Dry Up.

“Desertification, and particularly drought, is one of the major natural disasters. The death toll out of drought exceeds any other natural disasters, like tornado or tsunami,” said Dr. Yukie Hori, Coordinator of Awareness Raising, Communication and Education at the UNCCD, U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

It’s estimated that since 1979, drought has claimed over one-point-six-billion lives. The 2011 drought in Somalia and nearby regions resulted in thousands of deaths. In May, Namibia declared a national drought emergency. Officials there say 14 percent of the country’s population is now food insecure. Nearly 11-and-a-half million people remain food insecure in Africa’s Sahel region. U.N. officials say the wildfires in parts of the United States are directly linked to last year’s drought.

But why do so many people die in droughts when they are not sudden disasters like earthquakes?

“Because it is a creeping nature of disaster not many people pay enough attention for the importance of land recovery, which prevents and manages drought, as well as to secure water resources,” she said.

Hori said that freshwater is renewable, but it depends on the health of ecosystems, including land and soil.

“Some 70 percent of the freshwater available globally is held in the soil, which is accessible to plants. And only 11 percent is accessible as stream flow and groundwater. But when the soil is degraded, it loses the capacity to hold water. So that will lead to drought and water scarcity. So it’s quite [a] serious issue in the world now.”

She said that raising awareness about the issue can be difficult because of the misunderstanding of the word “desertification.”
“Desertification is not about desert. But when people hear that word, desertification, they think about desert. You picture in your mind a vast sand dune, and this is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about land degradation in drylands, which affect many people, almost everyone, directly or indirectly, around the world,” she said.

“Forty percent of the world’s meat production,” she said,  “occurs on drylands. If the land is degraded by over-cultivation and over-grazing, then production may move to other locations. As a result, many trees may be felled to clear land leading to deforestation.”

For example, do not just exist in Africa. The U.S. has large areas of drylands.

“Seventeen states of [the] United States are characterized as drylands. And land degradation – that means desertification – is taking place in the states. But not many people understand that and know about it,” said Hori.

In the 1930s, giant dust storms ravaged the Great Plains of the U.S. The so-called black blizzards sometimes reached New York City. Those ecological disasters have been blamed on humans. Poor farming techniques eliminated grasses acclimated to wind and drought. When the winds came, some of the world’s best topsoil blew away destroying communities and lives.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the time has come to go beyond treating drought as an emergency situation. He says while droughts are hard to avoid, their effects can be lessened. Mr. Ban said, “The price of preparedness is minimal compared to the cost of disaster relief.” He’s called for a shift from crisis management to building resilience.

In March, the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy was held in Geneva. It recommended coordination of drought programs and response; proactive measures to protect the land; a safety net of emergency relief; and government and private insurance plans, among other things.

“Droughts happen as natural phenomena, but the [severity] of drought can be predicted and managed. In that case, [an] early warning system makes a lot of difference in peoples’ lives and also crop production. And there’s only one national drought policy [existing] today and which is [in] Australia. But the rest of the countries who are prone to drought do not have consolidated means to mitigate the effect of drought,” she said.

The UNCCD has given its Land for Life Award this year to organizations in India, Mexico and Australia for their efforts to protect ecosystems. It also says countries such as Eritrea, Kenya, Hungary, Portugal and Thailand are honoring those who’ve worked to protect drylands.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs