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Spreading Deserts

Pages 36 and 37

International Fight Against Desertification
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is an international agreement adopted in June 1994 in Paris. To date, 179 countries have signed the convention. The UNCCD is officially called the “United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa”. As the long name suggests, the convention aims to help countries that are seriously affected by drought and desertification.

Aims of the Convention
The three main aims of the convention are to increase the productivity of land, restore degraded land and preserve healthy land. Other objectives include encouraging more efficient use of water resources and promoting sustainable development in areas affected by drought and desertification. The idea of sustainable development is to satisfy present human needs for water, land and food without destroying these resources for future generations. So, if someone cuts down a tree, for example, then another tree should be planted to replace it.

National Action Programs
The convention is implemented through National Action Programs (NAPs) in various countries and regions. By March 2002, there were 57 NAPs. NAPs specify the practical steps and measures needed to combat desertification. These measures could include promoting research, introducing drought-resistant crops, improving drought warning systems or encouraging farmers to manage their land in a way that supports sustainable development. The most important thing about the NAPs is that they encourage ordinary farmers and villagers to take part and to make decisions, because they are the ones who are directly affected by desertification.

Focus on Africa
The impact of desertification on the environment and on human populations is greatest in Africa. Desert and drylands make up two-thirds of that continent. Three-quarters of the farmland in Africa is already degraded. Many African countries are poor and require a great deal of foreign aid to feed their people. The economy and infrastructure of these countries are weak. These problems have been a source of great concern to the international community. This is why the UNCCD, in its official title, makes particular mention of the need to combat desertification in Africa.

Box Feature: National Action Program in China
In the initial phase (1996-2000), attention was paid to slowing down the sped of desertification by introducing vegetation to degraded lands. Building shelterbelts and treating land that is contaminated by salt. Between 2001 and 2010, China aims to improve ecological conditions by planting forests and introducing natural reserves. By the end of the third phase in 2050, nearly all desertified lands in China will be under control.