Press Releases August 2010 - UN launches decade-long efforts to tackle desertification - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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UN launches decade-long efforts to tackle desertification

Fortaleza (Brazil) / Nairobi, 16 August 2010 - The United Nations is launching the Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (2010-2020) today, an 11-year long effort to raise awareness and action to improve the protection and management of the world's drylands, home to a third of the world's population and which face serious economic and environmental threats.

"Continued land degradation - whether from climate change, unsustainable agriculture or poor management of water resources - is a threat to food security, leading to starvation among the most acutely affected communities and robbing the world of productive land," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a statement announcing the launch.

"As we begin the Decade on Deserts and the Fight against Desertification, let us pledge to intensify our efforts to nurture the land we need for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and guaranteeing human well-being," he added.

On a global scale, desertification - land degradation in drylands - affects 3.6 billion hectares, which accounts for 25 percent of the Earth's terrestrial land mass. It threatens the livelihoods of more than 1 billion people in some 100 countries.

Against this backdrop, member states of the United Nations addressed growing desertification and land degradation by adopting a resolution to dedicate the next decade to combating desertification and improving the protection and management of the world's drylands in 2007.

The global launch took place in Fortaleza, Brazil, in the State of Ceara, Brazil's semi-arid region, during the Second International Conference: Climate, Sustainability and Development in Semi-arid Regions.

Also today, the regional launch for Africa was held in Nairobi, Kenya, at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Other regional launches are scheduled to take place in New York, in September, for the North American Region, in the Republic of Korea in October, for the Asian Region, and in November for the European region.

While concerns about desertification are growing, it is not all doom and gloom. Efforts have been made to address land degradation and while there have been positive outcomes, more action is needed to arrest and reverse land degradation and creeping desertification worldwide.

Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification warned that the international community is at a crossroads, and must decide between a business-as-usual approach that will be characterised by severe and prolonged droughts, flooding and water shortages or an alternative path, that "channels our collective action towards sustainability".

He added that the Decade's message stresses that land is life, "so, we must ensure the drylands, remain productive and working" and that the vision for the Decade is to "forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification and land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability".

Notes to Editors

Decade's History and Purpose

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2010-2020 the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification and in December 2009, it mandated five UN agencies to spearhead activities related to the Decade. These are the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and other relevant bodies of the United Nations, including the Department of Public Information of the United Nations Secretariat.

The Decade is designed to heighten public awareness about the threat desertification, land degradation and drought pose to sustainable development and ways leading to their alleviation.

Value of Deserts and Drylands

  • 2.1 billion people, about 40% of the world's population, live in the world's deserts and drylands

  • 90% of this population is in developing countries

  • 50% of the world's livestock is supported by rangelands

  • 46% of global carbon is stored in drylands

  • 44% of all cultivated land is in drylands

  • 30% of all cultivated plants come from drylands

  • 8 of the 25 global hotspots are in the drylands. These are areas where 0.5% of the plant species are endemic to the region but habitat loss exceeds 70%

Desertification Threats

  • Desertification affects 3.6 billion hectares of land worldwide - or 25% of the Earth's terrestrial land mass

  • 110 countries at risk of land degradation

  • 12 million hectares of land, an area the size of Benin, are lost every year

  • Annual land lost could produce 20 million tons of grain

  • US$42 billion in income is lost every year from desertification and land degradation

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment, development and the promotion of healthy soils. The Convention's 193 signatory countries, or Parties, work to alleviate poverty in the drylands, maintain and restore the land's productivity and mitigate the effects of drought. The Convention expects Iraq to be its 194th member next week with Iraq's accession on 28 August.

For more information, please contact:

Cadija Tissiani UNCCD/Ceara, (+55) 61 9988 9852 or 618220 3406, Email:

Wagaki Mwangi, UNCCD/Ceara, (+55) 85 9605 0883, Email:

Yukie Hori, UNCCD/Bonn (+49) 228 815 2829, Email:

Launch in Nairobi

Waiganjo Njoroge, UNEP/Nairobi on (+254) 723 857270 or (+254) 20 762 5261, Email:

Mia Turner, on (+254) 20 762 5211 or (+254) 710 620495, Email:

Sarah Anyoti, UNDP/Nairobi on (+254) 20 762 2300, Email:

Amanda Gicharu, UNDP/Nairobi on (+254) 20 762 4780 or (+254) 719 333337, Email:

Links to additional materials

Press Kit:

Downloadable photos at: (Please credit the photographer)

United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification (UNDDD):

Around 2.1 billion people live in the world’s deserts and drylands (c) Chetan Soni



Further Resources

UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification

UN Convention to Combat Desertification

Global Deserts Video

Message from the UN Secretary General on the UN Desertification Decade


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