Interview. Over 2 billion people impacted by land degradation | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
December 2019
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Between 1981 and 2003, nearly a quarter of global land got degraded, says UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw.
The great Roman Empire collapsed because of, among other things, the desertification caused by deforestation and land degradation. Today, 169 countries in the world face the impact of land degradation. In the 25th year of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), a progeny of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, New Delhi will be hosting the 14th edition of its Conference of the Parties (CoP-14) from September 2 to September 13. In an interview held in Ankara, Turkey, UNCCD’s Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw explained the significance of the Delhi conference and also outlined the Convention’s strategies to stall the progress of man-made deserts. (These are only excerpts from the interview)

How do you view the upcoming Delhi conference?

It is going to be the most successful CoP so far. Top leaders of many countries are attending. Close to 200 countries are sending their representatives and there will be around 5,000 delegates. This is a global conference focussing on land restoration agenda, which is so vital for achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals and climate resilience.

Desertification is a natural phenomenon, isn’t it?

By desertification, we do not mean the natural expansion of existing deserts in the world. When we say desertification, we mean the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.

Why is combating desertification so important? Can degradation of land be reversed?

Restoration of the health of the degraded land in drylands is important because about 34% of the earth’s land surface and half of the farmlands are in these drylands. Over 2,000 million people live there, in addition to more than half of the world’s livestock. Most of the dryland residents are poor and water shortage is acute. Child mortality rate is very high. Poverty is both a cause and consequence of desertification.
Does climate change have a role in desertification?What are the effects of desertification on people?What are some of the ways in which UNCCD help countries fight desertification?What are your expectations from the Delhi conference?You seem to favour private investment in the land restoration effort?This idea will be controversial in India where privatisation of public assets is taboo.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Thiaw, Ibrahim
Basheer, K.P.M.

Data provider

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) is a Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.


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