Desertification is not only one of the world's greatest environmental challenges; it is also a major impediment to meeting basic human needs in drylands. It puts at risk the health and well-being of 1.2 billion people in more than 100 countries.
Many of the world's poorest people are also those most directly affected by desertification. Two thirds of the poor live in drylands, about half in farm households where environmental degradation threatens the agricultural production on which their livelihoods depend.
The causes of desertification are varied and complex. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, adopted 13 years ago today, aims to promote concrete action through innovative local, national, sub-regional and regional programmes and supportive international partnerships. However, degradation of the global environment continues at an alarming pace, with serious social and economic implications. Effective implementation of the Convention, which integrates environmental and developmental concerns, is becoming ever more urgent.
The theme of this year's World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, "Desertification and Climate Change -- One Global Challenge", reminds us that climate change and desertification interact with each other at a variety of levels. They are two major manifestations of the same problem. And together they seriously threaten our ability to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing our world to get warmer. We are already experiencing the impact of climate change, with adverse effects felt in many areas. And for people living in dry areas, especially in Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.
Global warming is expected to lead to a further rise in the number of extreme weather events, such as droughts and heavy rains, which will have a dramatic impact on already weakened soils. This trend will, in turn, worsen desertification and increase the prevalence of poverty, forced migration and vulnerability to conflicts in affected areas. Conversely, concerted efforts to combat desertification -- by reclaiming degraded land, combating soil loss and restoring vegetation -- can help curb greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the resilience of affected countries and build their capacity to adapt to climate change.
On this World Day, let us strive to address desertification and climate change in a synergetic fashion, as part of an integrated approach to achieving sustainable development for all.
Secretary-General of the United Nations