UNCCD Marks World Day to Combat Desertification, Drylands Projects Announced

© UNCCD<br /> 17 June 2009: The Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) selected the theme “Conserving land and water = Securing our common future” for the 17 June celebration of World Day to Combat Desertification.

The 2009 Day marks 15 years since the Convention was adopted and opened for signature. In a statement to mark the occasion, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja highlighted that the next session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNCCD “will act on ways and means to mobilize resources through partnership with a view to address the issues of desertification, land degradation and drought by improving the livelihood of affected populations and the conditions of affected ecosystems in order to generate benefits for all.”

In his message marking the Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted that climate change has contributed to nearly one-third of the world's cropland becoming unproductive and almost three-quarters of rangelands showing symptoms of desertification. He underscored the need to “reconsider our agricultural practices and how we manage our water resources.” He further recommended recognizing the security risks of letting desertification advance unchecked, and recognizing that by “combating climate change we can help to reverse desertification, increase agricultural productivity, alleviate poverty and enhance global security.”

In a joint statement, the UNCCD and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced that they have agreed to develop a US$7.5 million project to support countries to meet their obligations under the Convention. The project will be implemented in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/GEF, and will assist parties to the UNCCD to set up or strengthen national monitoring and assessment systems, enabling them to report back to the COP on the status of implementation of their National Action Programmes in the context of their national sustainable development objectives.

To mark the Day, UNEP announced the findings of its US$10 million Desert Margins Programme (DMP), which is carried out in partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and with support from the GEF. This project has involved nine pilot countries in Africa and has employed technologies that combine modern science with traditional and indigenous knowledge in an effort to identify anti-desertification strategies. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, suggested that the solutions identified in the DMP be scaled-up and replicated in order “to climate-proof vulnerable communities while boosting livelihoods, biodiversity and water supplies en route to achieving the UN's poverty-related Millennium Development Goals.”

Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted UNESCO's global research project “Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands” (SUMAMAD), which pools the expertise of dryland scientists and environmental experts from Belgium, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Syria and Uzbekistan to promote the conservation of soil and water resources in drylands. He said the second phase of this project would cover 2009-2013, and will also develop climate change scenarios so that policy-makers and dryland communities are better able to respond and adapt to the challenges posed by climate change and desertification. Matsuura also announced the publication of a “Teaching Resource Kit for Dryland Countries,” that is available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish, and targets secondary school environmental education by stimulating pupils' curiosity and appealing to their artistic sensibilities to better transmit scientific and environmental knowledge.

Anada Tiéga, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, said that the “occasion of this World Day to Combat Desertification is an appropriate time to remind ourselves of the essential services provided by wetlands, especially in drylands and areas that are vulnerable to erosion and salinization.” [UNCCD World Day to Combat Desertification Webpage][Secretary-General's Message][UNEP World Day to Combat Desertification Webpage][UNESCO Director-General's Message][Ramsar Secretary General's Message][Joint Statement by the GEF and UNCCD]