By Busani Bafana
Land degradation, severe droughts and advancing desertification are pushing vast sectors of the population out of their homes. In the Middle East and North Africa, that forced option carries additional risks, such as falling into the hands of extremist groups.
And this is not a hasty conclusion. This region, where some 400 million people live, is one of the hardest hit in the world, precisely by drought and the advance of desertification.
The situation is such that several investigations handle the fearsome possibility that in a few decades it will not be possible to live in the Middle East and North Africa, even in as little time as 2040.
The international community commemorated the World Day to Combat Desertification, on the 17th, under the slogan “Our land. Our home. Our future ”, dedicated precisely to analyzing the important relationship between land degradation and migration.
What is desertification about?
Desertification is when soil degradation generates arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, mainly due to human activities and climatic variations, according to the United Nations (UN).
“Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dry ecosystems, which cover more than a third of the land, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate uses ”, he clarifies.
"Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing, and poor irrigation practices can undermine soil productivity," he adds.
More than 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and around 1 billion more and in more than 100 countries are at risk of the same fate, the world forum indicates. "Among these people are many of the poorest in the world, the most marginalized and with very little decision-making power," he adds.
World Day to Combat Desertification is a propitious time to remember that it is possible to achieve "neutral land degradation through problem solving, engaging strong communities and cooperation at all levels," according to the Convention on the United Nations to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
"Environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty pose development and migration problems," he says.
In fact, the UNCCD secretariat, based in Bonn, opportunely recalls that in just 15 years, the number of migrants worldwide went from 173 million, registered in 2000, to 244 million, in 2015.
Drought, the great unknown
Drought, a complex natural hazard that progresses slowly with widespread environmental and socioeconomic consequences, causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other natural disaster, the convention secretariat noted.
By 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world will live under conditions of water stress.
Meanwhile, UNCCD reports predict that demand for water could rise 50 percent by 2050.
As populations grow, especially in dry areas, more and more people become dependent on clean water supplies on degrading land. Water scarcity is one of the great challenges of the 21st century.
"Drought and water scarcity are considered the natural disasters with the greatest consequences, as they cause economic and ecological losses in the short and long term, as well as having a significant secondary and tertiary impact," he added.
Fresh water availability is 10 times less
The availability of fresh water per inhabitant in the Middle East and North Africa is currently 10 times lower than the world average, the UN warned. What's more, higher temperatures could reduce crop growing seasons by 18 days and lower agricultural production by 27 percent, and as much as 55 percent by the end of the century.
And to make matters worse, that region's water resources are among the lowest in the world and a 50 percent reduction is forecast by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Furthermore, 90 percent of the land in the region is arid, semi-arid, or dry sub-humid, while 45 percent of the arable land is exposed to salinity, depletion of soil nutrients, and erosion by wind and water. FAO specified.
The UNCCD points out that to mitigate the consequences of this situation, preparing for drought that responds to human needs, while preserving ecosystems and the quality of the environment, requires the participation of all stakeholders, including users and water providers.
“Actions to mitigate the effects of drought should be implemented taking into account drought monitoring and early warning systems, vulnerability and risk assessments, upstream and downstream water uses, the relationship between land use and water, the diversification strategies of the means to earn a living for the people affected by this problem ”, he explained.
"By addressing the degradation of the soil upstream, access to water in the place and downstream is improved," he exemplified.
Soil health is essential for the search for sustainable solutions for the management and supply of water resources, recalled the secretariat of the convention.
“It is essential that countries are proactive (rather than reactive), are coordinated at the regional level (in addition to national actions); have a holistic and multisectoral approach (rather than in silos) and treat the drought as a 'constant risk' (rather than a crisis), ”he explained.
The global commemoration of this year's World Day to Fight Drought will take place this Thursday 15 in Ouagadougou, and the organization will be in charge of the Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change of Burkina Faso.
The UN Convention to Combat Desertification
The UNCCD, created in 1994, is the only binding international agreement that relates environment and development for sustainable land management, and specifically targets arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.
Its 195 States parties work together to improve the living conditions of dryland populations in order to maintain and restore soil productivity and mitigate the effects of drought.
UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of people in the fight against desertification and land degradation. The secretariat facilitates cooperation between rich and developing countries, particularly regarding knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable soil management.
As the dynamics of land, climate and biodiversity are inextricably linked, the UNCCD works closely with two other Rio conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address these challenges. complexes with an integrated approach and the best possible use of natural resources.
Translated by Verónica Firme