Mass exodus feared by desertification

Desertification threatens one-third of humanity

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More and more people are losing their livelihood due to the increasing drought and the spread of the desert. Desertification could still lead to mass exodus from the areas within this generation, according to a new study by scientists at the United Nations.


The study, presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on June 28, warned scientists of the threat to international stability posed by the loss of soil fertility and the degradation of natural livelihoods. They also propose a multi-level strategy at all levels of government. "It is imperative that effective policies and sustainable practices be used to halt the decline of drylands, " said Hans van Ginkel, Rector of UN University and UN Under-Secretary-General.

One third of humanity is endangered

Two billion people, one third of all humanity, are already potential victims of desertification, according to the study. Without countermeasures, more than 50 million people will become homeless in the next ten years and could become environmental refugees. The number of these refugees surpasses the entire population of South Africa or South Korea - and they are just the beginning.

Drawing on data from more than 200 experts from 25 countries, the researchers urge governments to adopt a broader, overarching view of the issue and to take more coordinated and integrated action. Too often decisions have been made in isolated areas and levels that are mutually obstructive and counterproductive. What is needed now is a strategy that includes both the fight against desertification and against climate change and poverty. display

Lack of coordination of the measures

"Some forces of globalization seek to reduce economic inequality and fight poverty, but at the same time help to increase desertification, such as absurd agricultural subsidies, " explains van Ginkel. "Reforming measures to combat desertification also represents a chance to tackle global climate change more effectively and, for example, to bind more atmospheric carbon dioxide, " said Zafar Adeel, lead author of the study.

Specifically, the scientists suggested, among other things, that water shortage should not be regarded as unavoidable and that the inhabitants of drylands should be encouraged to use ecologically sound land using financial aid. These include, for example, the promotion and creation of opportunities to earn a living in non-agricultural areas. The stronger involvement of local authorities and local bodies and greater transparency and involvement of the different levels of action is also a step in the right direction.

At the international level, too, experts call for greater networking and more communication and collusion between the various multinational bodies and conventions. Only a synchronization of the various measures and strategies could make both social and ecological goals achievable. Moreover, in order to better assess progress, there is an urgent need to develop a consistent set of indicators and data collection methods.

(United Nations University, 28.06.2007 - NPO)