United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

nortpedSso2514ltfgi6cu6atf1f3utt3h7242a697um7cuct794fh21002m  · 

Have you heard about Droughtland yet? It might be a fictitious country, but it is becoming closer to reality each day. Learn more about life in Droughtland and get your policymakers to take early action before drought strikes, so that no country becomes defeated by drought: https://droughtland.com


No Droughtland: Global leaders call for urgent action to boost drought resilience


  • Desertification and Drought Day marked in Spain and around the world 
  • Three out of four people may be affected by drought by 2050
  • Global campaign urges action now to ensure no country becomes Droughtland
  • Countries and communities around the world pioneer solutions to boost drought resilience

Bonn/Madrid, 17 June 2022 – In the face of growing impacts of drought exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, countries and communities must take action now to build drought resilience, global leaders urged today at a high-level event to mark Desertification and Drought Day in Madrid, Spain.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Droughts in all regions are getting more frequent and fierce. The well-being of hundreds of millions of people is being compromised by increasing sandstorms, wildfires, crop failures, displacement and conflict. Climate change bears much responsibility, but so does how we manage our land. Taking care of our land and its biodiversity can help address the climate crisis and assist in reaching all our Sustainable Development Goals. Let us act now to drought-proof our future.”

Drought resilience is the focus of this year’s global observance hosted by Spain and led by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), with commemorative events taking place around the world. 

Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said: “No nation—rich or poor—is immune to drought, and all countries can take steps to avoid the devastating impacts of droughts on people’s lives and livelihoods. Although we have made some progress, it is not enough. Drought is a natural hazard, but it does not have to be a disaster. We are calling on all countries to make this year’s global observance a pivotal moment where we commit to working together to restore our lands, protect natural resources and boost communities’ resilience to drought to ensure no country becomes Droughtland.”

Teresa Ribera, Vice-President of the Government of Spain, said: 

“Spain is one of the most vulnerable European countries to desertification. Almost three quarters of its territory are drylands susceptible to be affected by this phenomenon, 20% of which are already considered degraded. The fact that Spain has had to live with droughts and their consequences for decades has taught us the need to integrate drought into hydrological planning and water resource management, addressing it in advance and avoiding, as far as possible, emergency actions when severe situations have already been reached.”

Droughts are hitting harder

According to the latest UNCCD report, droughts are up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year. By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three out of every four people around the world. 

In the Horn of Africa, at least 26 million people are facing food shortages following four consecutive poor rainfall seasons. Elsewhere, communities from Chile to the United States, from Mexico to Morocco, from China to Spain are also in the grips of severe—and often unprecedented—drought.

Patricia Kombo, Founder of PaTree Initiative and UNCCD Land Hero from Kenya, said: “Drought was declared a national disaster last October. And I have witnessed how it is affecting people in Turkana [County in Kenya] while we were providing emergency food relief there. I realized that droughts do not only affect food systems, but they fuel poverty, conflicts and migration… because in one village you could only find like 10 households and they were telling us the youthful generation had migrated…it’s a cross-cutting issue. ” 

A drought in Southern Africa five years ago put 20 million people on the verge of starvation. This year Chile marked a record-breaking 13th year of drought. A prolonged drought in the United States that started in 2000 is the country’s driest period in over 1,200 years. Monterrey, the third largest city of Mexico, is rationing water due to drought. 

“Desertification and drought are the primary causes of migration and inter-community conflict. It is not by chance that in most countries, years of drought are listed as years of economic downturn…. We must deal with drought, using every tool we can. Existing tools and resources may not be enough. But they can get us far, if we make a better use of the existing tools: Early Warning- Preparedness- Response…the recently held COP discussions in Abidjan have reinforced the momentum that has been building on the need to tackle, urgently, desertification, land degradation and drought,” said Alain Richard Donwahi, UNCCD COP15 President.

Half of the world’s population is expected to face severe water scarcity in the next eight years. As many as 700 million people (about 10% of the world’s population) are at risk of being displaced during that period, according to UNCCD’s Drought in Numbers report.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President, Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, said: “In Chad, the desert is advancing four kilometers every year. That means, in a few decades, the capital N’Djamena will be in the desert. And we are facing extreme weather events from drought around all the Sahel region and all over Africa. The rainy seasons are not coming anymore and this worsens the drought in our communities. We need urgent action to fight desertification, to fight this drought, to invest in our communities, to restore our ecosystem in order to give us good food production.”

Examples of resilience in the face of drought

A recent review of  drought risk mitigation measures by UNCCD and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) showcases examples from around the world of how countries and communities can boost drought resilience through better early warning systems, greater interagency cooperation, and a mix of traditional knowledge and innovative approaches.  

In Brazil, Ethiopia and Tunisia, a combination of water harvesting and sustainable land management practices are used to reduce the impact of drought among vulnerable populations.

There are signs of progress even  in the most vulnerable regions. The drought risk system in Africa’s Sahel is regional in scope. Originally set up 50 years ago, it brings together the entire range of stakeholders, from producer associations to decision-makers, who benefit from scientific and technological capabilities provided by regional organizations. 

India has taken an even more comprehensive approach that includes drought management as part of the national disaster management plan and involves various institutions at national, state and local levels. It is built around early action that begins with the management of the country’s water system, including rainwater, rivers and groundwater. 

In Central America’s Corredor Seco, the dry corridor stretching across Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, as well as areas of Costa Rica and Panama, community contingency funds are used to support drought-hit farmers without access to formal financing and insurance systems. Over 60% of the population depends on the production of staple grains for their livelihoods, and in three out of five harvest cycles, small farmers suffer significant losses.

The United States has recently announced that drought will become a strategic domestic and foreign policy priority. The country has some of the most sophisticated and advanced drought-monitoring and response mechanisms, which could benefit and fast-track the development of collaborative action at the global level. 

“The good news is, real solutions exist,” Thiaw said. “Countries should have access to robust and effective early warning and monitoring systems. Countries, especially in drought-prone areas, should plan for solid drought preparedness and act now! Communities, especially the most vulnerable ones, should have access to adequate insurance schemes to protect their lives and livelihoods. By restoring land back to health, we can protect our climate and water resources, boost drought resilience and sustain life on this planet,” he added.

Drought resilience was a top agenda item at the 15th Session of the UNCCD Conference of the Parties (COP15) held in Côte d’Ivoire in May. Countries agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Working Group for 2022-2024 to evaluate all options for the Convention to support a shift from reactive to proactive drought management. The Group’s findings and recommendations will be presented at the UNCCD COP16 to be held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2024.

Highlights of activities in Spain and around the world


Twilight of the Tigris: Iraq’s mighty river drying up

Iraq may be oil-rich but the country is plagued by poverty after decades of war and by droughts and desertification.


It was the river that is said to have watered the biblical Garden of Eden and helped give birth to civilization itself.

But today the Tigris is dying.

Human activity and climate change have choked its once mighty flow through Iraq, where — with its twin river the Euphrates — it made Mesopotamia a cradle of civilization thousands of years ago.

Iraq may be oil-rich but the country is plagued by poverty after decades of war and by droughts and desertification.

Battered by one natural disaster after another, it is one of the five countries most exposed to climate change, according to the UN.

From April on, temperatures exceed 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and intense sandstorms often turn the sky orange, covering the country in a film of dust.

Hellish summers see the mercury top a blistering 50 degrees Celsius — near the limit of human endurance — with frequent power cuts shutting down air-conditioning for millions.

The Tigris, the lifeline connecting the storied cities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, has been choked by dams, most of them upstream in Turkey, and falling rainfall. 

An AFP video journalist traveled along the river’s 1,500-kilometre (900-mile) course through Iraq, from the rugged Kurdish north to the Gulf in the south, to document the ecological disaster that is forcing people to change their ancient way of life.  

Kurdish north: ‘Less water every day’

The Tigris’ journey through Iraq begins in the mountains of autonomous Kurdistan, near the borders of Turkey and Syria, where local people raise sheep and grow potatoes.

“Our life depends on the Tigris,” said farmer Pibo Hassan Dolmassa, 41, wearing a dusty coat, in the town of Faysh Khabur. “All our work, our agriculture, depends on it.  

“Before, the water was pouring in torrents,” he said, but over the last two or three years “there is less water every day”.

Iraq’s government and Kurdish farmers accuse Turkey, where the Tigris has its source, of withholding water in its dams, dramatically reducing the flow into Iraq.

According to Iraqi official statistics, the level of the Tigris entering Iraq has dropped to just 35 percent of its average over the past century.  

Baghdad regularly asks Ankara to release more water. 

But Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Guney, urged Iraq to “use the available water more efficiently”, tweeting in July that “water is largely wasted in Iraq”.

He may have a point, say experts. Iraqi farmers tend to flood their fields, as they have done since ancient Sumerian times, rather than irrigate them, resulting in huge water losses.

Central plains: ‘We sold everything’ –


In Ningxia, experts teach desert management


By HU DONGMEI in Yinchuan and ZHAO RUIXUE | chinadaily.com.cn |

An online training course on desertification prevention started on Sept 9. Twenty-six people from seven Arab countries attended. [Photos provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Attendees watched videos about how people in Baijitan, Ningxia, deal with sand and transform the desert into an oasis. They also watched a video about local people exploring ways to controlled sand to build a section of railway.

To date, the institute has held 12 training courses like this one, with more than 300 people from Arab countries attending. It is the second time through the course for Alkhashmi Muftah, an official from the agricultural department of Libya.

Muftah hopes to learn practical methods to prevent desertification and will apply what he learns to the situation in his own country.

Located in the northwestern part of China, Ningxia has explored several methods to prevent desertification that have proved useful. Its technologies, schemes and models on desertification prevention have been recognized around the world.

Agriculture Ministry: An integrated project to mitigate the impacts of dust storms


The Ministry of Agriculture revealed Saturday, internal and external moves to combat desertification in the country, while confirming exerting utmost efforts to rehabilitate forests and natural pasture plants.
The Director-General of the Department of Forestry and Combating Desertification in the Ministry of Agriculture, Rawya Mazal, told the Iraqi News Agency (INA), that “The Department of Forestry and Combating Desertification in the Ministry of Agriculture will start a afforestation campaign that includes a number of sites in the country, pointing out that” The department is now in the process of preparing for the annual autumn campaign to combat desertification and reduce the negative effects of climatic changes and high temperature.”
She added that “on the internal level, the sand dune stabilization project has started on the international highway linking the governorates (Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Diwaniyah), with mud covering work for sand dunes, after which there will be mechanical stabilization works, biological stabilization works, afforestation, and finding water sources for the purpose of irrigation those plants,” indicating that “the aim is to reduce the negative effects of dust and dust storms, which have recently become familiar in Iraq,”
“The project is part of the Diwani order headed by the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Hamid Al-Ghazi, as the project will be integrated to eliminate the phenomenon of desertification and dust and dust storms in the country.”
She noted that “At the international level, special working papers have been prepared for each ministry that is to be submitted with delegations to develop a strategic vision to reduce the negative impacts and combat desertification, and also focus on the water and drought issues that Iraq suffers from, ” Pointing out that “the papers will be presented at the Cairo Conference on International Parties, which will be held on the twenty-seventh of  next November.”

We make the most of all opportunities to raise awareness of the importance of tackling urgent and interlinked challenges such as land degradation and drought, nature loss and climate change.

Please read : “https://www.unccd.int/news-stories/stories/droughtland-campaign-featured-margins-general-assembly-discussions-new-ways?fbclid=IwAR0LzqkJA4etpoaM29IpK5y3aKbyj_7_NWGqKojTUSZLg4sSeFYExGnmBTU

UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary Andrea Meza Murillo emphasized that the “Metaverse paves new pathways for visions of the future on what each of us can do to restore the land. By working together and changing our hearts and minds, we make the most of all opportunities to raise awareness of the importance of tackling urgent and interlinked challenges such as land degradation and drought, nature loss and climate change.


For a number of practical ideas : please see “what each of us can do to restore the land” at https://www.facebook.com/groups/273559399327792/





Usually, the fight against desertification has been seen as a task for international and national organizations. Almost all countries have ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and usually their Ministry of Development Cooperation and/or their Ministry of Environment is responsible for dealing with all aspects of it. In Belgium, the Directorate-General for Development Cooperation (DGDC) is examining desertification and drought problems.

Nevertheless, it is known that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also take many initiatives that fall wholly or partly within the framework of the drought and desertification problem. To realize this, it seems necessary to first define precisely what is meant by desertification and a number of related terms. Many people still wonder what desertification exactly means. Let us therefore look at some definitions accepted by the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) (Treaty Text, p.7-8):

“Desertification” means land degradation in arid, semi-arid and arid sub-humid regions due to various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.

“Fight against desertification” includes activities that are part of integrated land development for sustainable development in arid, semi-arid and arid sub-humid areas. These activities aim to:

  • Prevention and/or reduction of land degradation;
  • Rehabilitation of partially degraded land; and
  • Restore Deserted Land.

  • “Drought” is the natural phenomenon that occurs when precipitation has remained significantly below normal recorded levels, causing severe hydrological imbalance, negatively affecting the country’s production systems.

“Land” means the terrestrial bio-production system that includes: the soil, vegetation, other biota, and the ecological and hydrological processes operating within this system.

“Land degradation” is the reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of irrigated cropland, irrigated cropland, grassland, grazing pastures, forests and woodlands. This loss results from land use or from a process or a combination of processes, including processes due to human activities and life patterns, such as:

  • Soil erosion caused by wind and/or water;
  • Deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of the soil; and
  • The long-term loss of natural vegetation.

  • With these definitions in mind, a conversation about desertification can be conducted much more accurately and fruitfully.

The Desertification Treaty came into force in 1995. In the beginning, accredited NGOs were admitted to the Conferences of the Parties only as observers. It took quite some time before they were given the opportunity to participate in the debates. However, the “preamble” of the Convention text has very explicitly emphasized the role of the NGOs from the outset (Treaty text p.6):

Emphasizing the special role of non-governmental organizations and other larger groups in programs to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of the drought.

To properly understand this “special role” of the NGOs, we should also take into account another paragraph of the “preamble”:

“Underlining the important role played by women in regions suffering from desertification and/or drought, especially in rural areas of developing countries, and the importance of the full participation of both men and women at all levels in programs to combat desertification and mitigating the effects of the drought.”

Since a number of NGOs are specifically active in those rural areas and mainly develop activities for and with the local rural population, it is clear that they are better placed than anyone else to assist in the implementation of the Desertification Convention. Therefore, many NGO projects are now recognized as very valuable contributions to the functioning of the UNCCD and the experience gained by NGO representatives on the ground is increasingly taken into account.

In my country Belgium too, a number of NGOs are active in the field of desertification. The strange thing is that this is sometimes not indicated “as such” by the organizations involved. The explanation is simple: the term desertification is hardly ever used in the description of a sustainable development project.

Let’s give a few examples:

Soil improvement projects are generally referred to as “agricultural projects”. Nevertheless, it may concern measures to combat soil erosion, to prevent or reduce further land degradation or to restore degraded land. These are typical means used in the fight against desertification, but not mentioned as such.

Projects to improve water use by the rural population. This often involves the provision of potable water. Sometimes, however, NGO projects also contribute to a more efficient use of irrigation water, which in turn can be counted as part of the fight against desertification.

Many NGO projects involve actions to improve the fertility and economic properties of the soil, which is then considered more of an agricultural than a desertification project.

Actions against the loss of natural vegetation and reforestation projects are attached to the Biodiversity Convention rather than the Desertification Convention.

Finally, little attention is paid to the important function of measures to combat desertification through alleviating poverty in the arid regions. The direct link between land degradation and poverty is still far too little recognized. As a result, socio-economic projects to reduce poverty in arid regions are usually not regarded as actions in the fight against desertification. And yet they also contribute to this.


To clarify that NGOs can contribute in various ways to the fight against desertification, here are a few examples of projects of my non-profit organization TC-DIALOGUE., in 2006 handed over to TERR@DIALOGUE.

Various strategies have been developed in the past to set up humanitarian projects to limit further desertification and reduce poverty. The most esteemed plans foresee actions to improve the living standards of women and children in the arid regions of developing countries. After all, it is women and children who, in their daily struggle for survival, live closest to nature and are obliged to damage parts of nature, for example by removing firewood. Improving the life of women and children therefore also means making a direct contribution to the fight against desertification and poverty.

Our non-profit organization TC-DIALOGUE was committed to contribute to improving the life of families and communities in arid regions through reforestation and the creation of communal vegetable gardens or school gardens. In each case, the soil-conditioning TerraCottem method, developed at my laboratory at the University of Ghent (Belgium), was used; it promotes plant production in dry areas.

In a community vegetable garden for women, one or more wells are constructed and the garden soil is treated with the soil conditioner. Each member of the village’s women’s association is allocated a part of the land for vegetable production. 80% of the proceeds go to the worker and her family, 20% is donated to the local association for the purchase of extra material or fertilizers. This enables all affiliated women to produce more food for their families with less effort, earn more and thus acquire a better living situation. If reforestation is also done around the vegetable garden, for example by planting windbreaks with fruit trees or wood-producing species, even the problems of vitamin and wood supply and further deforestation can be tackled.

In a school garden, the children learn how to combine traditional farming methods with modern technologies. Under the guidance of local teachers, they learn to produce fruit and vegetables with a minimum of water and fertilizers. For example, they are provided with vitamin-rich school meals, while the extra proceeds are used to purchase school materials. The student council is involved in the management of the vegetable garden, so that the students also learn how to improve cultivation and irrigation techniques.

In reforestation projects, the local population is involved in the cultivation of native tree species. The young trees are distributed to the surrounding villages and schools, where they are planted out using the soil conditioner TerraCottem. This method makes it possible to recreate a significant increase in vegetation, even in very dry areas, to combat soil degradation and thus improve biodiversity.

Projects on all continents, from China to South America, have already sufficiently proven the efficiency of this method. Through such projects, our non-profit association contributed to improving the living situation of the rural population. The fight against desertification is thus effectively entered into.

Lebanon (reforestation)

A joint project of the Lebanese Makhzoumi Foundation, the Greek NGOs INARE and KEDE, and TC-Dialogue started in May 2001. This reforestation project not only combated desertification and further erosion, but also made the local population aware of the desertification problem. Congresses and training sessions formed a basis for the application of modern planting techniques and soil conditioning. Schools were also involved in the project. The students not only learned techniques, but also received attention for the usefulness of reforestation, both for people (living conditions and economy) and for nature (biodiversity, ecology and combating soil degradation). Women were also actively involved in the event.

Lebanese representatives of the Makhzoumi Foundation in the Akkar nursery

In Northern Lebanon (Akkar) breeding beds were created on which about twenty tree species were sown: all kinds of fruit trees, native conifers, oaks and the well-known Lebanon cedar. From 2002 to 2004, approximately 51,000 young trees were divided and planted. The trees ended up at farms, municipalities and schools, spread over 49 villages and municipalities in northern and central Lebanon. The small tree nurseries, which have been set up all over Lebanon, offer poor farmers a new chance for a significant improvement in their living conditions. The project is still further developed by local NGOs.

Inner Mongolia (China) – Erosion Control

Reforestation project on Abaga Banner

The project was launched in April 2005 with the aim of preserving and restoring the Juniperus sabina vegetation. This conifer species is a typical steppe and sand-fixing low shrub, capable of stopping the silting of the steppe and increasing the chances of increasing biodiversity. The local species Populus simonii and Ulmus glaucescens were also tested as soil-fixing hedge plants. The project was co-created with the Association for Sustainable Ecological and Socio-Economic Development (P.R. China) and the local farming community of Abaga Banner.

Algeria – Vegetable gardens in the refugee camps

Vegetable production in Aussert

Family garden in Aussert refugee camp

This project was launched in November 2005 by UNICEF Algeria, in collaboration with TC-Dialogue and SOS Children’s Villages, an international organization for the protection of orphans. It includes the creation of small family gardens with fruit trees in the refugee camps of the Saharawis (near Tindouf in Western Sahara). Vegetable gardens and erosion control were also planned in Charouine (near Adrar). Thanks to the partnership between the three organizations, family gardens and a larger demonstration garden for interesting food plants were created in the SOS Children’s Village of Draria, a suburb of Algiers.


Establishment of a community garden for the local school

In a first phase, together with the Togolese NGO RJR (Réveil de la Jeunesse Rurale), five school gardens were created in the north of the country (Kara region). In addition to vegetables, young trees were also grown in this area in order to be able to reforest 5 hectares per school and to offer the students fresh vegetables at school. This project was carried out together with the school children themselves. Later on, the NGO TERR@DIALOGUE took over the project.

Gambia & Senegal

One of the family gardens
Success in the school garden of Sambelkuda (The Gambia)

In The Gambia, three vegetable gardens for women were created in collaboration with another Belgian NGO Hands Together. Vegetable gardens and school gardens were also established in The Gambia together with Bevrijde Wereld, the well-known Belgian development organisation. In Senegal, also together with Bevrijde Wereld, four school gardens were built.


Closing remarks

It should have become clear from this brief description that NGOs in arid, semi-arid or sub-humid areas do indeed play an important role in the fight against desertification. Whether they are setting up specific projects on soil, water, food production, biodiversity or poverty alleviation, their contributions to improving the living conditions of rural populations are important enough to be taken into account when devising strategies to slow down further land degradation. or even be stopped. We are aware that the successful work of Belgian NGOs is valued within the UNCCD.

Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM





The successful actions of the vzw TC-DIALOGUE were continued from 2006 off by the NGO TERR@DIALOGUE (http://www.terradialoog.be/)

Report shows youth, women, rural folk among hardest hit by land degradation

By Robert Amalembahttps://www.standardmedia.co.ke/environment/article/2001446270/youth-women-rural-folk-among-hardest-hit-by-land-degradation

Patricia Kombo addressing the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at the Sofitel Hotel in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She called on world leaders to involve youth in restoring land.[Robert Amalemba, Standard]

Poor rural communities, smallholder farmers, women, youth and indigenous people are worst hit by desertification, land degradation and drought, a report has indicated.

The Global Land Outlook 2 report shows humans transformed over 70 per cent of earth’s land from its natural state, causing unparalleled environmental degradation and contributing significantly to global warming.

“If current land degradation trends continue this century, scientists predict that severe climate-induced disturbances will increase. These include disruptions to food supplies, forced migration, and continued biodiversity loss and extinction.

“Collectively, these trends increase the risk of declining human health, more zoonotic diseases and greater conflict over land resources,” says the report by UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The report says women are not only vulnerable to climate change but effective actors or agents of change in mitigation and adaptation courtesy of their strong body of knowledge and expertise.

%d bloggers like this: