- UN says desertification is a global, not only sub-Saharan problem
- About 2,000 delegates from 190 countries
and hundreds of environmental organisations have gathered in the Senegalese
capital, Dakar, for an international conference on the spread of deserts.
- The UN-sponsored conference - said to
be the biggest environment meeting ever held in Africa - will try to reach
a consensus on how to combat desertification, so that countries can get
international financial backing to their efforts.
- Figures released before the conference
show that the phenomenon costs about $42bn a year and has serious social
and economic consequences in the affected zones.
- "Developed countries are spending
billions to cut the effects of greenhouse gases," says Hama Armba
Diallo, the executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification
- "We must show them that desertification
is a global environmental problem and that if they don't do something,
they'll feel the consequences themselves," he says.
- The organisers say a large part of international
funds for fighting environmental problems is given over to issues such
as climate change and water management, at the expense of the desertification
- Mostly A Man-Made Problem
- Desertification reduces the land's resilience
to natural climate variability.
- Soil becomes less productive, as topsoil
is blown away by the wind or washed away by the rainstorms. Vegetation
- Drought is part of the cause, but essentially
desertification is a man-made problem.
- It arises from placing too much pressure
on the land, often because of overgrazing.
- Many environmentalists also blame the
phenomenon on the destruction of forests for short-term gain.
- The Dakar conference will also address
the link between El Nino phenomenon and desertification and drought.
- Billion People At Risk
- The organisers of the conference estimate
that the spread of barren land has an impact on 250 million people, and
could eventually threaten a billion people.
- In North America, 74% of the dryland
is already "seriously or moderately" affected by desertification.
- Africa is a close second at risk, with
73% of the dryland damaged.
- In the immediate sub-Saharan Sahel region,
experts put the death rate from the related impact on living conditions
at 200,000 people per year.
- Desertification has also hit Asian and
Pacific nations, as well as Europe, notably Italy and Spain.
- Developed countries as a whole - and
more favoured areas of developing countries - are also being affected indirectly
as people migrate to them after being unable to live off their degraded