United Nations Launches International Year of Deserts and Desertification 2006 to Profile Desertification as a Major Threat to Humanity

Bonn, 23 December 2005

In its resolution A/Res/58/211 of 23.12.2003 United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2006 as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification with the view to raise public awareness of the issue and protect the biological diversity of deserts as well as the traditional knowledge of those communities affected by desertification.

The main objective of the year is to profile desertification as a major threat to humanity, reinforced under the scenarios of climate change and loss of biological diversity. Drylands constitute about 41 per cent of the Earth's surface and support more than 2 billion people. Between 10 and 20 per cent of drylands are degraded or unproductive. Land degradation affects one third of the planet's land surface and threatens the health and livelihoods of more than one billion people in over one hundred countries.

Desertification is one of the world's most alarming processes of environmental degradation. And each year, desertification and drought cause an estimated $42 billion in lost agricultural production. The risks of desertification are substantial and clear. It contributes to food insecurity, famine and poverty, and can give rise to social, economic and political tensions that can cause conflicts, further poverty and land degradation. The great scope and urgency of this challenge led the United Nations General Assembly to proclaim 2006 to be the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

The Convention to Combat Desertification is the only internationally recognized, legally binding instrument that addresses the problem of land degradation in dryland rural areas. It enjoys a truly universal membership of 191 parties. And, through the Global Environment Facility as its funding mechanism, it is able to channel much-needed resources to projects aimed at combating the problem, particularly in Africa. "UNCCD plays a key role in the world's efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve sustainable development and reach the MDGs." said Kofi Annan in his message on the World Day to Combat Desertification

"It is widely recognized that environmental degradation has a role to play in considerations of national security as well as international stability. Therefore, desertification has been seen as a threat to human security," says UNCCD Executive Secretary Hama Arba Diallo

The IYDD provides a major opportunity both to strengthen the visibility and importance of the drylands issue on the international environmental agenda and to highlight the truly global nature of the problem. All countries and civil society organizations have been encouraged to undertake special initiatives to mark the Year, and preparations are now well under way around the world.

The International Year can already count on the active support of three of the honorary spokespersons in the persons of Ms.Wangari Maathai, Peace Nobel laureate 2004, H.E. Cherif Rahmani, Minister of Environment of Algeria, and Bulgarian international football star and Golden Boot winner Hristo Stoitchkov, who will lend their voice and support throughout the IYDD.

We want to raise awareness at the international, regional, national and local level about the deserts," said Chérif Rahmani, "Desertification is a transnational issue and a global problem."

On the other hand H.E. Rahmani stressed the necessity to use the opportunity presented by IYDD to "protect the biological diversity, knowledge and traditions of affected communities living in the desert"

Mr. Stoitchkov committed himself also to "promoting the message amongst future generations and particularly through soccer, probably the single most powerful and fraternal sport in the world that resonates among nations and brings people together." In this regard, a major football match is being planned between players from Europe and affected countries, particularly from Africa

The International Year of Deserts and Desertification is a strong reminder of the urgent need to address the far- reaching implications of this problem. United Nations General Secretary recently summarizes the goal of UNCCD in this way: "I look forward to working with Governments, civil society, the private sector, international organizations and others to focus attention on this crucial issue, and to make every day one on which we work to reverse the trend of desertification and set the world on a safer, more sustainable path of development."

A special website for the year www.iydd.org. Will provide extensive links to information materials, reports, planned activities and events around the world, by United Nations agencies, governments, non-governmental and private partners. For further information please contact press (at) unccd.int.