Bringing drylands poverty to the radar screens of science and policy

–Prof. Antonio Rocha Magalhães, Chair, UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology

One issue of concern to me is related to the fact that the dry lands do not attract enough attention from the decision makers, in general. Yet, dry lands cover 40% of the land territory of the planet and are home to one third of the global population. And most of the poverty, which constitutes the real development problem of the world, is concentrated in the dry lands.

Drylands are fragile and highly vulnerable to climate variability and change. DLDD – desertification, land degradation and droughts – is a global problem that particularly affects these ecosystems. So the livelihoods of the poor inhabitants of the drylands are also likely to be among the most vulnerable to global warming. But their plight is rarely voiced or given serious consideration in relevant global and national policy arenas.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification is the only global instrument we possess to deal with the scourge of desertification, land degradation, drought and poverty in the dry lands. In this sense, it is more than an environmental Convention. It is also a development Convention to address poverty eradication in a sustainable way.  But giving priority to these themes has been an arduous task.

Yet science too, has not given sufficient attention to these issue areas. On the one hand, the resources to promote research and science in dry lands issues is seriously inadequate. Consequently, information to be delivered to policy makers and land users is insufficient, and a lack of awareness on the subject follows suit. It is a vicious cycle.

Scientific conferences, of the kind that is taking place in Bonn, are an avenue to break this cycle. The UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference has improved our knowledge base on the economics of DLDD, with a view to bringing policy makers crucial information on the costs of combating desertification versus the costs of inaction. The foundation of the first two conferences gives me hope that the scientific community will be mobilized substantially so that there is a body of knowledge to tackle the complexity of DLDD for the creation of sound and informed decisions.


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