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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid