World Day to Combat Desertification, 17 June 2013 – Don’t let our future dry up!

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drylands 144xOn the World Day to Combat Desertification – 17 June 2013 – Marian Fernando writes about the trust factor in the complex issues around land degradation and the way that Initiatives of Change seeks to address these issues through its Initiative for Land Lives and Peace.

Since 1994 the United Nations General Assembly has recognized 17th June as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. This year, the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is focusing especially on drought and water scarcity with the slogan, “Don’t let our future dry up,” and urging everyone to, “…take action to promote preparedness and resilience to water scarcity, desertification, and drought.” (See this PDF document)

Desertification, drought, and water scarcity greatly fuels conflict, as people are forced to compete for access to the basic necessities, such as land, food, and water, vital for their survival. It comes as no surprise then that over 75 percent of the world’s conflicts occur in resource-scarce dryland areas, although they are inhabited by only 35 percent of the world’s population.

Land restoration is increasingly recognized as an important factor in fostering peace and sustainable development, locally, and globally. However, an often encountered hurdle to achieving either remains a lack of trust due to a past or on-going conflict among local populations. Several years ago Initiatives of Change (IofC) International began focusing on the issue of land restoration. At the request of Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of UNCCD, in 2011 and 2012 dialogues on this topic took place as part of the Caux Forum for Human Security, resulting in a formal partnership request from the UNCCD to IofC International.

At IofC, where change in human attitudes, behavior, and relationships is recognized as the key to achieving lasting peace and development, a programme was conceived, Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace (ILLP), with the aim to promote peace and reconciliation through land restoration. Drawing on over 80 years of IofC experience in facilitating reconciliation through dialogue and trust-building activities, the programme works with communities to develop their capacities to share and manage their resources.

Working with grassroots organizations and local IofC offices to identify communities vulnerable to land degradation and conflict, a pilot project was launched in Baringo County, Kenya (home to several pastoral tribes), which has seen an increase in armed conflicts due to diminishing grazing lands, drought, and cattle rustling. Through videos, dialogue, reconciliation sessions, and other trust-building activities, ILLP is working with tribal leaders and local peace practitioners to teach these troubled communities practical methods for taking care of the environment, as well as the importance of cultivating an atmosphere of peace. (See this news story)

This year from July 7th to 11th, the Initiatives of Change, together with Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and Mohamed Sahnoun, Chair of the Caux Forum for Human Security, will convene the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security (CDLS) to further discuss linkages between land degradation and human security. The conference will feature workshops based on select case studies of land restoration from around the world. Examining the successes and challenges of these cases will allow for the formulation of a methodology and set of best practices, as well as provide an opportunity for practitioners, advocates, and policy makers to build productive partnerships to combat desertification and land degradation.

Facts & Figures on Land Degradation and Desertification*

Land degradation affects 1.5 billion people globally.
Total land degradation affects over 1.9 billion hectares of land worldwide, with arable land loss estimated at 30 to 35 time the historical rate.
Each year 12 million ha, where 20 million tons of grain could have been grown, are lost to drought and desertification.
42 percent of the very poor and 32 percent of the moderately poor are directly affected by land degradation globally.
2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture despite 52 percent of the land used for agriculture being moderately or severely affected by soil degradation.
Land degradation over the next 25 years may reduce global food production by as much as 12 percent, resulting in an increase of up to 30 percent in world food prices.

*Source: UNCCD, Desertification Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD) – Some Global Facts & Figures

Marian Fernando is a volunteer at the Geneva Office of Initiatives of Change International, working on the ILLP programme. She is also Conference Assistant for the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security. 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