Restoration of degraded lands vital to livelihoods

According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), up to 40 per cent of the earth’s land is degraded, directly affecting half of the world's population. 

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“The number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 per cent since 2000. Without urgent action, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world's population by 2050," the United Nations official website says.

A 2017 United Nations University (UNU) report and a 2018 UNCCD report also state that Ghana has 35 per cent of its land under the threat of desertification. They add that as a result of land degradation, grasslands, woodlands and forests are being lost, while natural water bodies are drying up, due to prolonged droughts and sedimentation of watercourses.

It is also estimated that the annual cost of land degradation in Ghana is US$ 1.4 billion, which is equal to six per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. Causes of land degradation in the country include soil erosion, deforestation or indiscriminate felling of trees and overgrazing, among other factors.  

All these and others have informed the theme for this year’s World Environment Day (WED), commemorated yesterday in Riyadh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was ''Land Restoration, Desertification, and Drought Resilience.'' 

Ghana’s theme was: “Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience — Journey to a Greener Future”, with the slogan: “Our Land, Our Future”. World Environment Day, the biggest international day for the environment, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has been held annually since 1973.

The commemoration started when the United Nations General Assembly declared June 5 as World Environment Day during the Stockholm Conference in 1972, making it the first world conference to make environmental protection a major issue. Incidentally the UNEP was established in the same year.

Since the declaration of WED in 1972, every year, on June 5, the day is observed across the globe to reinforce and sustain awareness around environmental action, which the Daily Graphic sees as a good move, since most people are oblivious of the importance of keeping the environment intact as nature bestowed on us.

It is due to people’s ignorance or nonchalance that the country is currently suffering the brunt of land degradation which to a certain degree amounts to desertification. This has unfortunately resulted in restraining socioeconomic development — reducing the availability or access to water, food and energy, and contributing to resource-based conflict — and jeopardising successful achievement of development goals such as SDG 15, Life on Land, especially in the northern part of the country.

The Daily Graphic, therefore, sees interventions such as the annual tree planting exercise across the country, as a programme that must not only be lauded, but sustained as well to prevent further degradation of our lands.

Further, we can encourage the conservation of resources, promotion of eco-friendly practices such as planting of trees, reduction of waste and support renewable energy use, as well as campaigns, events and initiatives to foster a sense of urgency and address environmental challenges for a sustainable future.

Indeed, as espoused by the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, land restoration can reverse the creeping tide of land degradation, drought and desertification, boost livelihoods, lower poverty and build resilience to extreme weather but that cannot be done without tackling climate change.

It will also increase carbon storage and slow climate change, while just restoring 15 per cent of land and halting further conversion could prevent up to 60 per cent of expected species extinctions.

Land restoration also has the potential to create millions of green jobs across Africa, the UNEP Deputy Executive Director, Elizabeth Mrema, also indicated. We couldn’t agree more with her statement that: “We are the first generation to fully understand the immense threats to the land; we might be the last one with a chance to reverse the course of destruction.

Our priority now must be on restoring ecosystems – on replanting our forests, on rewetting our marshes, on reviving our soils.” If we are to restore degraded landscapes, combat desertification, build effective resilience to drought, and ensure a sustainable future for both the earth, especially the country and the next generation, we need to act more responsibly as we utilise the resources nature has bequeathed to us.

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