World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought: History, theme and significance

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, June 16, 2022, 04:05 PM IST
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In Faux-Cap, Madagascar, the dunes and their strong winds pose a threat to their crops. With the greenest weapons, its inhabitants worked for 120 days to secure 75 hectares of dunes. Once settled, the risk is over | UNDP

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is a United Nations observance celebrated each year on 17 June. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the presence of desertification and drought, highlighting methods of preventing desertification and recovering from drought.

Each year's global celebration has a unique, novel emphasis that had not been developed previously.

Desertification and drought are issues of a global dimension in that they affect all regions of the world, and that joint action by the international community is needed to addres them, particularly in Africa, where the Sahara, the world's largest desert, continues to steadily expand, threatening the lives and of livelihoods of millions.

The global observance of the event this year will take place in Madrid, Spain, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has announced.

“Spain is honoured to be hosting this year’s Desertification and Drought Day that puts the global spotlight on the urgent issue of drought. Drought is not just the absence of rain; it is often fueled by land degradation and climate change. Together, we can overcome its devastating effects on people and nature around the world and start preparing now to drought-proof our future,” said Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Vice-President of the Government of Spain and Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge.

History

The United Nations General Assembly declared 17 June to be "World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought" by its resolution A/RES/49/115(link is external) adopted in December 1994.

Dryland ecosystems, which cover over one third of the world‘s land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use.

What is desertification?

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations.

Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one third of the world's land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of the land.

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed every year to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. The day is a unique moment to remind everyone that land degradation neutrality is achievable through problem-solving, strong community involvement and co-operation at all levels.

The matter requires even more attention now. When the land degrades and stops being productive, natural spaces deteriorate and transform. Thus, greenhouse gas emissions increase and biodiversity decreases. It also means there are fewer wild spaces to buffer zoonoses, such as COVID-19, and protect us from extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, and sand and dust storms.

Theme

Announcing the theme of 2022 Desertification and Drought Day “Rising up from drought together”, Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said:

“Droughts have been part of human and natural systems, but what we are experiencing now is much worse, largely due to human activity. Recent droughts point at a precarious future for the world. Food and water shortages as well as wildfires caused by the severe drought have all intensified in recent years.”

Significance

Droughts are among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries, but increasingly so in developed nations too. In fact, forecasts estimate that by 2050 droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population.

The number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 percent since 2000, as compared to the two previous decades (WMO 2021). When more than 2.3 billion people already face water stress, this is a huge problem.

More and more of us will be living in areas with extreme water shortages, including an estimated one in four children by 2040 (UNICEF). No country is immune to drought.

The latest scientific assessments projecting more frequent and more severe droughts in the future and evidence of their increasing impacts has prompted governments to focus on more robust and predictable international commitment and action. Since 2017, the UNCCD and its partners supported about 70 drought-prone countries to develop national action plans to reduce drought disasters.

Among the top priorities of the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties of the UNCCD (COP15) taking place from 9-20 May 2022 Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Parties will discuss on the way forward for drought preparedness and resilience globally.

Goals

The annual Desertification and Drought Day has three objectives:

First, to promote public awareness about desertification and drought.

Second, to let people know that desertification and drought can be effectively tackled, that solutions are possible, and that key tools to this aim lay in strengthened community participation and cooperation at all levels.

Lastly, to strengthen implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.

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