Statement of the Administrator on the Occasion of World Environment Day International Theme: Deserts and Desertification -‘Don’t Desert Drylands’

5 June 2006

Half of all those living in poverty around the world live in the drylands. These arid and semi-arid regions – vast border expanses between desert and grassland – are home to more than two billion people and cover 41 percent of the Earth’s landmass. Life-sustaining vegetation struggles to ward off desertification and livelihoods are often threatened by the harsh conditions that predominate on these frontiers of human development.

Today, on World Environment Day, we focus on the obstacles facing us in this International Year of Deserts and Desertification, and on what we must to do overcome them. Reaching the Millennium Development Goals will be especially challenging in these fragile ecosystems.  Dryland populations face continued land degradation. They are both geographically and politically marginalised. They lack modern energy services. They are largely unprepared for climate change. Water is scarce. Half the world’s poor today are struggling to preserve their way of life in the face of deteriorating conditions in the drylands.

UNDP works with over 60 partner countries to develop National Action Programmes to Combat Desertification. Since 2003, UNDP has leveraged through the Global Environment Facility and other donors more than $370 million of grant funding to developing countries to support sustainable land management.  With the support of our partners we have set up the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, a unique human development initiative on which we are calling for more international support.  UNDP advocates four key elements necessary to nurture human development in the drylands.

Firstly, the inhabitants need legal rights, especially to the land they farm and live on. We are centrally involved in pro-poor environmental governance reform, which strengthens the land tenure rights of the poorest and embarks on land-reform programmes, paying particular attention to the empowerment of women.  Secondly, people living in the drylands need alternative energy sources. At UNDP, we are striving to develop greater access to modern energy services. Over 2.4 billion people still rely on traditional biomass fuels, such as wood, dung and charcoal, for cooking and heating, greatly aggravating land degradation and desertification.

 

Thirdly, communities need assistance to adapt to climate change. UNDP helps local populations to better cope with the pressures of climate change, such as increased drought.  And finally, UNDP underlines the vital importance of water, the subject of this year’s Human Development Report. We are working to forecast possible effects of climate change on water availability in the drylands and to help stakeholders develop adaptation, risk minimisation and coping strategies.

The environment is one of three dimensions of UN activity under review by the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence, the others being development and humanitarian support. We should take advantage of this opportunity to maximize the UN’s effectiveness in addressing environmental concerns.  Our efforts to preserve fragile ecosystems – including drylands – have never been more relevant than today.

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