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The relentless advance of drought as a horseman of the Apocalypse

The relentless advance of drought as a horseman of the Apocalypse

By Baher Kamal

Nowadays, fears are growing that the advance of drought and deserts, as well as increasing water shortages and food insecurity will generate a ‘tsunami’ of refugees and climate migrants.

"Regions prone to drought and water scarcity are often the source of many refugees": Monique Barbut.

Given this situation, it is not surprising that the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) considers drought as "one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse."

In fact, by 2050, the demand for water could increase by 50 percent. With demographic growth, especially in drylands, more and more people depend on the supply of clean water in degrading lands, warns the UNCCD secretariat, based in Bonn.

Water scarcity is one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and drought and water scarcity are considered among the natural disasters with the greatest consequences, since they generate ecological and economic losses in the short and long term, in addition to having secondary and tertiary impacts. , precise.

To mitigate the consequences, it is necessary that a preparation for drought that responds to human needs, while preserving environmental quality and ecosystems, has the participation of all actors, including users and suppliers of the service, for finding solutions, explains the UNCCD.

"It is attributed to drought, a complex natural hazard that progresses slowly and has significant widespread environmental and socio-economic consequences, causing more deaths and displacement of people than any other natural disaster," he stresses.

Drought, water scarcity and refugees

UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut recalled that regions prone to drought and water scarcity are often places of origin for many refugees.

Neither desertification nor drought are causes of conflicts or forced migrations, but they can increase the risk of their occurrence and intensify those that already exist, he explained.

“Converging factors, such as political tensions, fragile institutions, economic marginalization, lack of social safety nets or rivalries between groups create the conditions that make people unable to cope with difficulties. The continuing drought and water shortages from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is one of the last known examples, ”noted Barbut.

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The UNCCD notes that the geopolitical and security challenges facing the world are complex, but better implementation of land management practices can help populations adapt to climate change, as well as build resilience to drought.

In addition, he indicated, they can reduce the risk of forced migration and conflicts over scarce natural resources and ensure the production of sustainable agriculture and energy.

“The land is the true glue of our societies. Reversing the effects of land degradation and desertification through sustainable management is not only achievable, but is the next logical and cost-effective step for national and international development agendas, ”he observed.

The UNCCD warns that 12 million hectares of productive land are rendered sterile each year due to drought and desertification alone, representing one less opportunity to produce 20 million tons of grain.

"We cannot continue to allow ourselves to land degradation, when we should increase food production by 70 percent by 2050 to feed the entire world population," he stresses.

"Sustainable intensification of food production with fewer inputs, which avoid further deforestation and expansion of crops in vulnerable areas, should be a priority for policy makers," he suggests.

In addition, the UNCCD secretariat notes that increased droughts and flash floods, which are stronger, more frequent and more widespread, destroy the land, the main reservoir of fresh water on Earth.

"The drought kills more people than any other climate-related catastrophe, and conflicts between communities are advancing due to water scarcity," he said.

"More than 1 billion people do not have access to water, and demand will increase 30 percent by 2030," he added.

National security and migration

More than 40 percent of conflicts in the past 60 years have been related to the control and allocation of resources, exposing increasing numbers of poor people to water scarcity and hunger, and opening the door to states. failures and regional conflicts, warns the UNCCD.

"Non-state groups take advantage of large migratory flows and abandoned lands," he observes.

"When natural assets, such as land, are mismanaged, violence could become the primary means of resource control, taking the value of natural resources out of the hands of legitimate governments," he warns.

The number of migrants worldwide has been growing rapidly for 15 years, reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000.

The UNCCD recalls the relationship between this number of migrants and development difficulties, in particular the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty, as well as the importance of addressing the factors and causes of root of irregular migration.

The loss of productive land makes people choose risky options, he adds. In rural areas, where people depend on low-productivity land, its degradation is responsible for forced migration, he explains.

"Africa is particularly susceptible, as more than 90 percent of its economy depends on climate-sensitive resources, such as subsistence agriculture that needs the rains," the secretariat points out.

"Unless we change the way we manage the land, in the next 30 years we could leave 1 billion people or more vulnerable and with no options but to flee or fight," he said.

Improving the yield and productivity of the land will increase food security and incomes for land users and the poorest farmers, recommends the UNCCD.

"In turn, this stabilizes the income of the rural population and avoids the unnecessary displacement of people," he details.

Furthermore, UNCCD works with partners such as the International Organization for Migration to address the challenges posed by land degradation, massive movements of people and their consequences.

It also seeks to demonstrate how the international community can take advantage of the capacities and skills of migrants and refugees, in addition to highlighting the value of the remittances they send to their countries in building resilience.

Translated by Verónica Firme

Photo: Peasants prepare to dig a well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu district. Credit: Amantha Perera / IPS.

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