Land: Let’s Invest in It

Ranjan K Baruah
(Ranjan K Baruah may be reached at bkranjan@gmail.com. This piece has been written with direct inputs from UN publications)

We are aware of deserts. There is a serious problem being seen these days which is none other than desertification. Both these terms are different as deserts are different and desertification is different. We have to see whether these terms are same or they are different, and how they are impacting on us. Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change (particularly the current global warming) and through overexploitation of soil through human activity.

When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet’s life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual “soil death” can be spoken of, which traces its cause back to human overexploitation.

Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem. It 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 dry land 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 land.

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed every year on June 17 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 cooperation at all levels. This year’s theme is: “Land has True Value – Invest in It”. Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, was identified as the greatest challenge to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.

Acknowledging that desertification and drought are problems of a global dimension in that they affect all regions of the world and that joint action by the international community is needed to combat desertification and drought, particularly in Africa, the General Assembly declared 17 June to be World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought by its resolution A/RES/49/115 adopted in December 1994.

It is a phenomenon that ranks among the greatest environmental challenges of our time. Yet most people have not heard of it or do not understand it. It is a global issue, with serious implications worldwide for biodiversity, eco-safety, poverty eradication, socio-economic stability and sustainable development. Dry lands are already fragile. As they become degraded, the impact on people, livestock and environment can be devastating. Some 50 million people may be displaced within the next 10 years as a result of desertification.

Some two billion people depend on ecosystems in dry land areas, 90 per cent of whom live in developing countries. When rural land becomes unable to support the local population, the result is mass migration to urban areas. The increased frequency and severity of droughts resulting from projected climate change is likely to further exacerbate desertification.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development declares that “we are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations”. Specifically, Goal 15 states our resolve to halt and reverse land degradation. Each and every one must fight against desertification. Small actions and activities will lead towards combating desertification. As we are already facing problem due to climate change, we must take action to combat desertification. We have a unique opportunity like World Environment Day to focus for the planet. We must take action on time; else we may be too late to combat the challenges as mentioned.