Will to Stop
Spreading Deserts is Missing
Italy, June 15, 2001 (ENS) - More than 100 countries in all climatic
regions on all continents are seriously affected by desertification,
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said
today in a statement marking the UN's World Day to Combat Desertification
In protests over water shortages, two people were shot and killed
by police in Karachi, Pakistan this week, and hundreds of activists
have been detained in recent months. Much of Pakistan has been afflicted
by a severe drought which has left major reservoirs almost empty,
and efforts to solve the problem have become tangled in inter-provincial
At the FAO, Assistant Director-General Dr. Hosny El-Lakany, said
desertification is like a "disease of the earth." It dries up the
vegetative cover of croplands, pastures and woodlands, and has negative
impact on biological diversity, soil fertility, the hydrological
cycle, crop yields and livestock production.
In Central Asia on June 12, the government of Uzbekistan took emergency
measures to alleviate the consequences of the drought in the northwestern
provinces that has reduced crop fields to half of their original
size, and put around 100,000 people out of work. Drinking water
is in short supply and the environment is parched.
trees have been planted to restore and African desert to life. (Photos
or land degradation in dryland areas, can eventually turn drylands
into unproductive desertlike areas. Drylands make up 40 percent of
the world's land surface and desertification affects the lives of
one-sixth of the world's population, among them the poorest people
The Global Environment Outlook 2000 report, published by the UN
Environment Programme indicates that total land degradation has
affected some 1.9 billion hectares of land worldwide.
The rate at which arable land is being lost is increasing and has
been estimated at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Worldwide,
the loss of potential productivity due to soil erosion is estimated
as equivalent to some 20 million tons of grain per year.
One of the main causes of desertification is increasing pressure
on land resulting from rapid population growth and poverty, often
aggravated by increasingly recurrent droughts.
Combating desertification is complex and requires a long term commitment
and national and international coordination, the FAO says. Local
communities must be actively involved in decision making processes.
In 1994 the international community launched the Convention to Combat
Desertification, which became operational in November 1997 at a
conference hosted by FAO in Rome. Today, more than 180 countries
have ratified the treaty, but only a few of them have implemented
substantial programs and policies that support it.
active involvement in the fight against desertification is vital
not only in relation to its mandate to help countries manage forest
resources, and preserve soils, water resources, vegetation and biodiversity,
but also in fulfilling its mandate to promote food security, particularly
of vulnerable rural populations," Dr. El-Lakany said.
Xinglongzhao Forest Farm. Here the underground water layer is shallow
and in low-lying areas superficial clay layers are found near the
FAO is supporting the implementation of national action programs
to combat desertification in Mali, China, Senegal, Turkey, Chile,
Cuba, Yemen, Lebanon and Cambodia. It is also giving particular
emphasis to dry countries through its Special Program on Food Security.
Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme
says that desertification as an issue does not stand in isolation.
"It is clearly related to changes in climate, biodiversity conservation
and the need for sustainable forest and water resource management.
The links between these issues and the socio-economic driving factors
behind them is thus crucial," Toepfer said today.
Dr. El-Lakany said that this November world leaders will gather
in Rome to evaluate progress made since the 1996 World Food Summit
in reducing world hunger, focusing in particular on the need to
mobilize the political will and the resources to tackle these critical
The knowledge and technical skills exist to halt the destructive
trends in land management, Toepfer said. "But it is political and
economic factors, not scientific research that will determine whether
or not this knowledge and experience accumulates in libraries or
is put into practice."
FAO's desertification website is online at: http://www.fao.org/desertification