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Land Degradation Involves Huge Costs

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By Jaya Ramachandran | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN (IDN) - Some 600 scientists, government officials and representatives of civil society organizations are gathered in Bonn to carry out the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought. During the meetings, concluding April 19, governments will for the first time also provide concrete data on the status of poverty and of land cover in the areas affected by desertification in their countries.

A report presented on April 9 said the international community is losing up to 5 percent of global agricultural gross domestic production (GDP) due to land degradation. The study titled, 'The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought: Methodologies and Analysis for Decision-Making,’ was tabled during the UNCCD second Scientific Conference.

Advance reports place the cost of siltation of water reservoirs at USD18.5 billion per year, and salinity in global agriculture at about USD12 billion. According to the most recent national reports, desertification affects 168 countries today.

These are some of the findings that will be considered by three meetings to be convened under the aegis of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – the third Special Session of the Committee on Science and Technology (CST S-3) and its 2nd Scientific Conference from April 9 to 12, and at the eleventh session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 11) that will follow on April 15-19.

Concern has been growing about the cost of failing to address desertification and land degradation now, particularly in light of the projected global population trends and challenges that are intensifying competition over the land resource.

Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland, Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary and Walter Ammann, President, Global Risk Forum (GRF) Davos addressed the opening session.

“Poverty eradication will still be the main goal of the international community. The trinity of green growth, social justice and global environmental boundaries should guide the work on Sustainable Development Goals for the post 2015 period,” said Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and Chairman of the Global Sustainability Panel.

Addressing the April 9 meeting, she stressed: “Sustainable land management, prevention of land degradation and rehabilitation of land is a most effective and cost benefit way to eradicate rural poverty. Land will provide food, decent job and income to the rural people. Sustainable land management is also closely linked with availability of energy and water sources.”

She added that the information presented to the 2nd Scientific Conference of UNCCD indicates that integration of sustainable land management as a central part in the development policies and international cooperation will be smart economics, contribute to better life in rural areas and mitigate the environmental challenges.

“This is the first economic valuation of the cost of desertification and drought in over twenty years. It shows that desertification, land degradation and drought are key constraints to building social and environmental resilience, achieving global food security and delivering meaningful poverty reduction. Without action they will remain development’s Achilles Heel,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja during the opening session.

“The study also points to significant opportunities for action but unless scientific understanding of all land degradation and drought is strengthened, especially in the context of a changing climate, the global community is poorly positioned to deal with the impact of change. Business as usual is no longer an option,” he added.

“Fertile soil is our most valuable non-renewable resource. It lays the foundation for life, feeding the billions populating our planet. Nevertheless, each year an area three times the size of Switzerland is lost for good due to desertification. We are cutting off the branch we are sitting on! We need to move from Thoughts to Action now! This conference is an important step,” said Walter Ammann, President of Global Risk Forum (GRF) Davos.

The study shows that between 4-12% of Africa’s agricultural GDP is lost due to environmental degradation. The direct economic costs of land degradation at country level vary widely, with some as high as 6.6% of agricultural GDP in Paraguay, 9% in Burkina Faso and 24% in Guatemala.

Staggering social costs

The social costs are also staggering, according to the study. Nearly 870 million people globally suffer from chronic hunger. In Uzbekistan, food yields have declined by 20-30% due to land degradation. In East Africa nearly 3.7 million people need food assistance due to the drought of 2011, the study states.

The report, which looks at the costs and benefits of addressing desertification, land degradation and drought, finds that the existing scientific research mostly focuses on the direct economic costs of these phenomena, but overlooks the unintended consequences, including indirect and off-site costs.

The last such economic valuation of desertification was made in 1992 by UNEP. At that time, the direct cost was estimated at USD42 billion every year.

While focussing on the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought, UNCCD can draw satisfaction from the fact that Rio+20 outcome document emerging from a UN conference devoted a chapter on 'Desertification, land degradation and drought' (DLDD) in the 53-page outcome document endorsed on June 22, 2012.

They said: "We recognize the economic and social significance of good land management, including soil, particularly its contribution to economic growth, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and food security, eradicating poverty, the empowerment of women, addressing climate change and improving water availability."

Much to the contentment of Gnacadja, they said: "We stress that desertification, land degradation and drought are challenges of a global dimension and continue to pose serious challenges to the sustainable development of all countries, in particular developing countries.

"We also stress the particular challenges this poses for Africa, the least developed countries and the landlocked developing countries. In this regard, we express deep concern for the devastating consequences of cyclical drought and famine in Africa, in particular in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, and call for urgent action through short-, medium- and long-term measures at all levels." [IDN-InDepthNews – April 9, 2013]

Image: Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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