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A fifth of the world’s healthy land degraded in 15 years

First land degradation assessment report by UNCCD shows countries in emergency mode to halt land degradation by 2030

By Richard Mahapatra

The world needs emergency steps to stop desertification that now grips almost all countries. This emerged clearly after the first day of the 17th Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation (CRIC17) of the United Nation’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Guyana.

The preliminary assessment report circulated by the Secretariat of UNCCD finds that in the first 15 years of the millennium, 20 per cent of the world’s productive and healthy land has degraded.

More to it, drought and desertification now impact 169 countries that result in land degradation. The assessment is based on data submitted by 135 countries. Land degradation impacts over 3.2 billion people in the world.

In October 2015, after the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the 12th Conference of parties to UNCCD endorsed the SDG Target 15.3. Under this target is a concept called land degradation neutrality. By September 2018, 77 countries have set targets to halt land degradation, and 46 of those have been formally adopted by governments.

Arguably, this is for the first time the world has standardised data from countries to make an estimate of land degradation and the spread of desertification. “The first piece of good news is that we know more and more about what is going on… how much land we have degraded globally in the first 15 years of this millennium, how life has changed for the communities living on degraded lands, how droughts are evolving globally, the changing status of endangered biological species, and the financial resources available to address desertification,” says Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the Convention.

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Joseph Harmon, Minister of State, Guyana, the host country, says, “The continuing degradation of land and soils is a severe threat to the provision of ecosystem services and economic development globally.”

Barbut, also, cautions that given the degree of the problem, countries are still not doing enough in terms of land governance, education, demography and land use planning. She appeals them to be “brave” to take up urgent actions to curb desertification and land degradation.

However, there seems to be spike in governments’ efforts to fight desertification in recent years. In the last four years alone, 82 countries have committed to stop land degradation by 2030. More than 40 countries have now drought management plans, including India, that aim to mitigate droughts. “Momentum is with us,” says Barbut.

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