Monday, September 3, 2007

UN conference sounds warning on spread of deserts

Climate Ark, via AFP: The global spread of deserts poses a severe challenge to humanity that transcends any international borders, a UN-sponsored conference in Madrid heard Monday. "It's clear now that desertification is amongst the greatest challenges that humankind faces," Crown Prince Felipe, heir to the Spanish throne, said in an opening address to the forum, which included more than 2,000 delegates.

"We should never forget that the impact of desertification is not only felt in zones where the problem originates, but also in areas much further away," he said. The 12-day gathering of senior politicians and experts from nearly 200 countries hopes to come up with a new 10-year "strategic plan" to stem desertification and set measurable objectives and a timeline for achieving them.

Around 200 million people live in desert areas while just over two billion -- or one-third of the world's population -- live on arid land that makes up 41 percent of the earth's surface, according to a study by the United Nations University. Desertification is blamed for forced migration, conflict and starvation. Unless action is taken to curb the problem, some 50 million people could be displaced within the next decade, according to the study which was prepared by more than 200 experts from 25 countries.

"We are faced with an extraordinary challenge from the point of view of human rights, from the viewpoint of poverty, inequality, hunger, of despair," Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona told the gathering. Desertification has already "led to the movement of millions of persons who are fleeing countries that are increasingly affected by desertification and thus by poverty," she added.

Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia are the regions most vulnerable to desertification but the problem affects all continents, it said. The annual loss of income as a result of land degradation is estimated at 65 billion US dollars (47.6 billion euros). Excessive cultivation and grazing, deforestation, unsustainable irrigation practices, overpopulation and climate change have been identified as the main causes of desertification. Experts urge tighter land use management policies that protect existing vegetative cover from overgrazing and a ban on unsustainable irrigation practices as a means to curb desertification...

No comments: