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Combating desertification

BY: Peter Ossei-Wusu
A land showing the impact of desertification
A land showing the impact of desertification

Ghana joined the world last Friday, June 17, 2022, to mark World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought designated by the UN General Assembly on June 17, 1994.

The convention is an international legal instrument to combat land degradation in the world's dry lands. It provides strategies to deal with the global problem by adopting multi-sectoral participatory approach based on cooperation among governments, inter-governmental and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

The day is to recognise and encourage the need for more joint actions by the international community and to raise awareness of the presence of desertification and drought, highlighting the methods of preventing desertification and recovering from drought.

Earlier, in 1977, UNEP had drawn up a plan of action at its Conference on Desertification in Nairobi, Kenya to specifically check the spreading desert and desert conditions.

Desertification

Desertification is variously described as the degradation of land in hot and dry areas or a land degradation process that happens in the dry lands.

The convention to combat desertification and drought defines desertification as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities".

Desertification is a slow process that occurs when patches of separate degraded dry lands spread and merge together over time to create uninhabitable desert-like conditions.

Desertification is brought about primarily by human-induced factors of deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices combined with climate variations to turn once fertile soils into barren land often exacerbated by periodic prolonged droughts.

Desertification is intrinsically linked with two key issues facing humanity – poverty and unsustainable development. When the capacity of the soil declines, the lives and livelihoods of people who depend on it are at risk.

Desertification occurs because dryland ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. The poor often take desperate measures to survive. They farm on a piece of land that is already degraded even though it is increasingly unable to meet their needs.

Cause, effect

As land quality falls, poverty deepens. Desertification is, therefore, both a cause and a consequence of rural poverty. Already, up to one-quarter of the world's surface is covered by dry land areas.

The high position of the sun, the extremely low relative humidity and the lack of vegetation make the great desert, the Sahara, the hottest large region in the world and the hottest place on earth.

Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia and Western Sahara bear the brunt of the vagaries of the Sahara Desert. It covers 9,200,000 square kilometres.

Antarctica, the largest desert, covers 14,200,000 km and the Arctic desert 13,900,000 km. The fourth is the Great Australian desert of 2,700,000 km.

As the vegetative cover thins and erosion occurs, fertile topsoil that has taken centuries to build up is blown or whittles away in just a few seasons.

In some countries, there are a number of desert areas spreading towards one another. These include China (13), Pakistan (11), Kazakhstan (10) and many others, particularly in Asia.

The fragile environment of these areas is under serious threat – deserts are spreading at an alarming rate and drought is increasingly prevalent.

Most experts agree that a desert is an area which receives no more than 25cm of precipitation a year whilst the amount of evaporation exceeds annual rainfall. As a result, there is very little water available for plants.

At the height of the civil war, President Hissene Habre of Chad was reported to have stressed that the problem caused by drought and desertification was more daunting than the war that the country had been through.

The motto for this year in Madrid, Spain is healthy land equals healthy people on the theme is Food. Feed.

Announcing the day: Rising up from drought together, the Executive Secretary of UNCCD, Ibrahim Thiaw, said droughts had been part of human and natural systems, but what we were experiencing now was much worse, largely due to human activity.

Recent droughts point to a precarious future for the world. Food and water shortages, as well as wildfires caused by the severe drought have all intensified in recent years.

It is hoped Ghana shall fully participate in the global celebration.

The writer is Programme Coordinator, Forest, Biodiversity and Climate Change, Frontier Institute of Development Planning. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.