‘Over 2 billion people impacted by land degradation’

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K.P.M. Basheer – JULY 08, 2019 

Between 1981 and 2003, nearly a quarter of global land got degraded, says UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw.

The great Roman Empire collapsed because of, among other things, the desertification caused by deforestation and land degradation. Today, 169 countries in the world face the impact of land degradation. In the 25th year of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), a progeny of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, New Delhi will be hosting the 14th edition of its Conference of the Parties (CoP-14) from September 2 to September 13. In an interview held in Ankara, Turkey, UNCCD’s Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw explained the significance of the Delhi conference and also outlined the Convention’s strategies to stall the progress of man-made deserts. Edited excerpts:

How do you view the upcoming Delhi conference?

It is going to be the most successful CoP so far. Top leaders of many countries are attending. Close to 200 countries are sending their representatives and there will be around 5,000 delegates. This is a global conference focussing on land restoration agenda, which is so vital for achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals and climate resilience. India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the official host and we are getting good support and cooperation from the Indian government.

The CoP is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention. It is held every two years. The last one [COP-13]was hosted by China and the one before that [COP-12] was held in Turkey. The CoP reviews the implementation of the Convention by different countries, formulates strategies, approves budget for the next two years, coordinates its work with other international agencies and NGOs, and so on. At the New Delhi conference, India will be elected president for the next two years.

Land degradation and desertification are among the big environmental issues in India. For example, wind and water erosion and the loss of vegetation near the Thar desert are threats to the local environment.

Desertification is a natural phenomenon, isn’t it?

By desertification, we do not mean the natural expansion of existing deserts in the world. When we say desertification, we mean the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is a gradual loss of soil productivity — which makes raising of food grains and other crops impossible. When land degradation happens in drylands, it usually creates desert-like conditions. It drives millions of people out of their own lands each decade, destroys livelihoods and cultivable lands, chokes water sources, kills off animals and plants, and causes huge damage to economies. At least 169 countries are affected — including India, China, vast swathes of Sahel in Africa and even countries in Europe.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.