UN warns human-induced activities turning Earth into wide ‘desert’

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Desert enroachment
A worker rests on the roof of a building surrounded by sand as a result of desert encroachment at Ogrein Railway Station at the Red Sea State August 1, 2013. Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

World leaders and delegates from 192 countries across the globe have gathered in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss the worrying land degradation and global desertification on the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP12. The meeting is part of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, or UNCCD, which recently announced that an initiative is set for launch to mitigate the effects of drought worldwide.

Turkish Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs Veysel Eroglu said on Monday that desertification is already threatening about 1.5 billion people in over 110 countries. He added that there has been an annual loss of 10 million hectares of cultivated area worldwide, which causes one billion people to suffer from malnutrition.

In fact, more than four billion hectares of land are at risk of desertification and 40 per cent of the world population is facing water shortage, Eroglu said. The UN describes desertification as the “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas” because of climatic variations and human-induced activities.

Common factors that cause deteriorating lands are often land conversion and overuse, deforestation and poor irrigation methods, GMA News reports. “Drought and desertification can cause people to abandon their lands and migrate” due to food security, which could also affect politics, said Monique Barbut, UNCCD executive secretary.

Dry lands in Africa and Middle East are the mostly affected areas by the phenomenon. However, the Turkish Weekly reported that Eroglu said during the COP12 meeting that Turkey will donate $5 million to help African states work against desertification.

Tropical islands are also facing the threats of desertification. The UN has reported that 78 percent of land degradation happens in humid areas, while forests are strongly affected by the pressure of meeting the increasing demands for food consumption, feed for livestock and fuel.

The UNCCD COP12 aims to provide policies and guidelines focused on global land degradation neutrality by 2030. The land protection policies would potentially help restore about 500 million hectares of degraded land every year.

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