>> Experts meeting in Windhoek say prevention is better than cure when it comes to desertification
Windhoek - Desertification ranks among the greatest environmental challenges facing humankind, with global implications for bio-diversity, eco-safety, poverty-eradication, socio-economic stability and sustainable development.
It is said to be threatening over 3.6 billion hectares of Earth’s surface, with 135 million people already made homeless by the phenomenon.
As part of international efforts to combat desertification, the UN Convention of Combating Desertification (UNCCD) was established in 1994 ‑ following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
To date, over 190 countries have ratified the Convention as a legally binding framework that contributes to providing a comprehensive answer to problems related to the environment and sustainable livelihoods.
They work together to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought in drylands - the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
Over 2 000 delegates are meeting in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, for the UNCCD 11th Conference of the Parties (COP11), to grapple with challenges presented by desertification, especially in the developing world ‑ including Africa.
Addressing the media ahead of the conference, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja said decertification in most of African countries occurred as the result of mismanagement of natural resources.
Gnacadja pointed out that it is due to human activities such as unsustainable farming, mining, overgrazing and clear-cutting of land as well as climate change that forests turned into dusty, unproductive wastelands.
“Desertification occurs when the tree and plant cover that binds the soil is removed. It occurs when trees and bushes are stripped away for fuel wood and timber, or to clear land for cultivation.
“It occurs when animals eat away grasses and erode topsoil with their hooves. It is the combination of these factors that transforms degraded land into desert,” he said.
Gnacadja stressed that desertification is a global issue, with serious worldwide implications.
He pointed out that understanding of desertification, land degradation and climate change and its implications to the sustainable development is the key to addressing this global challenge.
There COP11 is a good platform to discuss desertification and come up with a concrete solution, he said.
Gnacadja said land is a finite natural resource, which can be linked to global needs like food, water, energy as well as eradicating poverty, especially in dry land such as Namibia.
He further said effective prevention of desertification requires both local management and macro policy approaches that promote sustainability of ecosystem services.
It is advisable to focus on prevention, because attempts to rehabilitate desertified areas are costly and tend to deliver limited results, he said.
Addressing the delegates at the official opening of the conference of COP11 on September 16, Uahekua Herunga, Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism ‑ who is now president of COP ‑ noted that addressing desertification is critical and essential to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Minister Herunga said the combination of high variability in ecosystem conditions in drylands and high levels of poverty, leads to a situation where societies are vulnerable to a further decline in human well-being, adding that addressing desertification therefore facilitates eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, as envisioned in the MDGs.
He said although land degradation and desertification are attributable to unsustainable utilisation of the environment such as deforestation for purposes of additional grazing, and agriculture, “these processes can be reversed through the introduction of management and utilisation practices which are more sustainable”.
“It is our conviction that delegates will experience COP11 in a country whose interventions against the threat of desertification, land degradation and drought needs to continue to be strengthened so that we can arrest it comprehensively.
“Land degradation is a significant threat to our developmental efforts and is a threat we are committed to addressing”.
Delegates at the week-long convention will discuss measures to reduce land degradation and slow down desertification as well as alleviating the challenges of people living in dry lands through solutions that restore soil productivity.
The COP11 delegates have also assessed progress made in the implementation of the convention's 10-year Strategy (2008-2018) and developed a way forward for the next five years.
In the 10-year Strategy, governments have committed to scaling up national, regional and global processes to reduce land degradation and slow down desertification.
Among other issues, the UNCCD parties agreed to report regularly on national efforts to contain land degradation and desertification as well as set up a Global Environment Facility by 2018 to mobilise funds for programmes and projects under the convention.
In addition, COP11 also reflected on financing, knowledge brokering and the UNCCD vision after Rio+20 outcome on land degradation, desertification and drought, considered one of the successes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012.
According to the Rio+20 Outcome Document, governments underline the economic and social significance of good land management, including soil.
World leaders agreed to strive for a land degradation neutral world and reaffirmed their commitment to take co-ordinated action nationally, regionally and internationally to monitor land degradation and restore degraded lands in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.