Hunger emergency in Somalia: the unconventional voice of Luc Gnacadja, UN Secretary for the fight against desertification

Hunger emergency in Somalia: the unconventional voice of Luc Gnacadja, UN Secretary for the fight against desertification

In the noisy silence on the tragedy taking place in the Horn of Africa – 12 million human beings in the throes of hunger in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya – a voice rises out of the chorus: «Droughts do not happen overnight». Droughts don’t happen overnight , denounces Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Gnacadja, in urging the international community to respond immediately to the East African crisis, highlights the need for “effective long-term solutions to address the real causes of famine in drought-prone regions”: introduce effective water scarcity management systems, as well as measures capable of hindering a growing desertification due to the severe degradation of arid land.

Desertification, land degradation and drought are triggered by human activities. We must therefore go beyond the prejudice according to which arid lands are unusable and unimportant, due to their low productivity. On the contrary, rational investments in these lands can yield good results, Gnacadja said at the Human Security Forum on July 15.

Aridity affects one third of the land and the world’s population, 44% of global food production and 50% of the animals destined for it. Biodiversity is closely linked to that of the now parched forests.

“We are the species that creates the most desert on earth,” Gnacadja added. We are the disease of the planet’s surface ”: millions of human beings who inhabit parched lands are now forced, in the absence of support, to seek refuge in more productive lands. And this constitutes a primary cause of conflict: eight out of ten wars are currently located in the “drylands”.

Agricultural practices have led to starvation of 925 million human beings, 80% of whom live in rural areas: family-scale farmers and landless poor. Feeding the 3 billion more people who will crowd the planet in 2050 requires an increase in food production by 70%. But at this rate, land degradation will reduce yields by up to 12% over the next 25 years, and global food prices will rise by 30% (according to estimates by the International Food Policy Research Institute, USA).

The recipe for breaking the vicious circle is simple, at least in theory:

1. Arid lands are crucial for producing food

2. Tackling desertification, land degradation and drought contributes to political security and stability.

3. Adapting to climate change and mitigating its effects inevitably implies sustainable land management.

4. It is impossible to protect the planet from biodiversity loss without addressing desertification, land degradation and drought.

5. We cannot protect our forests without addressing the main motive for deforestation: desertification, land degradation and drought.

6. It will be impossible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s ) without saving the “forgotten billion”, the poorest who live in the poorest conditions in arid lands.

On 20 September in New York the United Nations General Assembly will focus the “High Level Meeting” on the theme “Tackling Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD) in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development”. The Conference of the Parties (COP 10) – the supreme political body of the Convention on Biological Diversity (adopted in 1992 at the Rio Conference, UNCED) – will in turn discuss these same issues on October 17-21 in South Korea. And again, desertification will be on the agenda of the Conference itself (Rio + 20) in Rio de Janeiro, on 4-6 June 2012.

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