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UN launches decade for combating desertification in Asia

 InDepth News 18 October 2019

In run-up to the UN conference on biological diversity in Nagoya, the United Nations has launched the Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification for the Asian region where close to 40 percent of the land area is affected by drought and land degradation. This is also the region with the largest population suffering from the impacts of desertification. (1147 Words) - By Hiroshi Nagai and Taro Ichikawa


The global conference from October 18 to 29 in Japan's third-largest incorporated city and the fourth most populous urban area will also highlight that the loss of biological diversity and desertification are tightly knit challenges.

According to Uriel Safriel, one the world's most respected scholars on desertification, "it is the loss of biodiversity that initiates the vicious circle of desertification -- global warming -- further loss of biodiversity." Therefore, a stove-pipe approach to addressing these issues will not do.

The importance of the launch of the regional Decade also lies in the fact that more than any other developing area of the world, the Asia-Pacific Region has made the most remarkable gains in eradicating poverty. "Breaking the poverty cycle is a master key in the fight against desertification, land degradation and tempering the impact of drought," said Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), who represented the United Nations at the Regional Launch in Seoul, South Korea, on October 12.

He pointed out that the devastating effects of drought in Russia and floods in Pakistan and China on rich agricultural lands this year show that "we must take urgent measures to protect and preserve our land in order to avert future crises that imperil our food security."

"This is exactly the challenge of land degradation and the point of the Decade we are launching," Gnacadja added.

Drylands are home to one in three people in the world. They support half the world's livestock and make up 44 per cent of the world's cultivated systems. Though these breadbaskets are taken for granted, they now face serious threats due to the increase and intensity of the cycles of drought and floods encountered in the drylands. The dramatic situation is underlind by the fact that while it takes only seconds for floodwaters to erode fertile soil, it can take 500 years to recover an inch of that soil.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message to mark the start of the Decade, called on the global community to intensify efforts to "nurture the land we need for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and guaranteeing human well-being."

"Continued land degradation -- whether from climate change, unsustainable agriculture or poor management of water resources -- is a threat to food security, leading to starvation among the most acutely affected communities and robbing the world of productive land," Ban said.

During the 11-year campaign, from 2010-2020, the five UN agencies leading the initiative -- the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Department of Public Information of the United Nations (DPI) -- intend to reach every household with the simple message that "land is life, keep the drylands working."

They draw on some of the success stories such as those in China and India.


The encroachment of deserts on homes, cities and farmland is a challenge faced by most people that reside close to deserts. An example is the Cele County area in the far west region of China, which is characterized by the arid climate of the Taklimakan Desert. People settled here because some of the seasonal rivers provide water to many of the region's oases, making agriculture possible.

Subsequently, for the longest time, the people suffered the effects of desertification and mobile dunes, and the situation has got worse as the human and animal populations have increased. Higher demands for firewood and fodder hastened the desertification process and threatened Cele town, which had moved three times already.

The regional government decided to take action and, in 1983, launched project Experimental Research to Control Drifting Sand of Cele County, implementing a Comprehensive Protecting System. The system forms a series of biological and physical barriers to the movement of sand dunes.

The first barrier is a channel that is followed by a strip of grass and shrubs, and a narrower line of taller shrubs. Then at the border of the agricultural area comes a zone of tall trees serving as a wind break. The community did most of the work in line with the traditional system of voluntary communal work.

In the end there were additional benefits from the Cele project. It not only stopped further desertification, but in fact, pushed back the borders of the desert by about five kilometres. The agricultural area increased, as did the income of the inhabitants. To cover the high demand for firewood, the reclaimed land was also planted with trees for this purpose. The trees are guarded to prevent illegal logging. The project's success is evident from the increased quality of life for the whole county and has inspired other endangered regions of China.


The foothills of Himalaya in Haryana State are called Siwalik Hills and were once covered by forest. But uncontrolled logging, fires and overgrazing led to erosion and decreased forest productivity. Being an open access resource, inhabitants of the two adjacent villages brought their large cattle herds, goats and sheep to graze inside the forest and cut trees without restriction. The soil sediment eroded by the rain from the now unprotected forest ground built up in the crossing rivers and also settled on the agricultural land, leaving behind infertile land.

The state forestry officials determined that the local communities needed some incentives to protect the forest and take responsibility for its condition. So, they decided to increase water provision in order to enhance agricultural productivity and improve the household incomes of the villagers. This took the pressure from forest resources because the villagers became less dependent on the forest for their survival.

As a next step, they planned how to involve villagers in the forest's management. They set up Hill Resource Management Societies and opened it to all villagers for membership. The societies are responsible for the distribution of the water provided, the protection of the forest against overgrazing and illegal logging, as well as the maintenance of the dams and conveyance systems.

The locally-organized forest protection improved grass productivity, the number of trees per hectare and the regeneration of vegetation. Together, these measures eased the problem of flooding that occurred downstream and checked land degradation. Social improvements were also realized. The new forest protection system created employment opportunities which, along with better crop harvests, are the reasons behind the increased incomes at the household level.

Originally published by InDepth News. ©

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