21 June 2006: Some 400 scientists and policy-makers from the world’s arid regions meeting in Tunis, Tunisia, have urged leaders to put sharper focus on efforts to combat desertification, which threatens a third of the earth’s land surface, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said.
In what is being called the Tunis Declaration, adopted at the close of the three-day Future of Drylands Conference, a highlight of the UN International Year of Deserts and Desertification, participants pointed to preservation of cultural and biological diversity, management of water resources and identification of sustainable livelihoods for dryland inhabitants as crucial issues in those regions.
In addition, they underlined the importance of supplying renewable energy suitable for dryland development and creating management strategies for natural and man-made disasters. Desertification directly affects the lives of more than 250 million people and threatens another 1.2 billion in 110 countries, according to UNESCO, which co-organized the conference. An estimated 60 million of those affected in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to move toward northern Africa and Europe by 2020.
The economic impact is also considerable, the agency said. Lost agricultural production due to drought and desertification costs an estimated $42 billion annually. Another $2.4 billion is spent each year fighting land degradation, and the problem is likely to worsen.
In his closing address at the conference, Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Natural Sciences, expressed the hope that the Declaration “will be a major step forward on the joint path of the scientific community and decision-makers to help promote sustainable development in the world’s drylands.”