ARABLE land is being lost globally at a rate of 12 million hectares a year or about 33,000 hectares a day due to drought, a pace that is 30 to 35 times the historical rate, largely due to a lack of adequate research and coordination among governments, according to experts from the Germany-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
At the UNCCD-sponsored Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia the drought crisis was described with even more alarming statistics: The proportion of Earth’s land area experiencing drought, estimated at 10 to 15 percent in the early 1970s, exceeded 30 percent in early 2000, and is assumed to still be increasing. In Africa, the continent hardest-hit by drought, an estimated two-thirds of the entire land area is classified as either desert or dryland.
UNCCD Program Officer Daniel Tsegai explained in an interview with Inter-Press Service, “Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is evidence. African countries are severely affected.”
Describing the thrust of the African Drought Conference, which focused on “drought resilience,” Tsegai explained, “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions.”
The UNCCD priority on drought resilience is an extension of the policy adopted by the High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy held in Geneva in March 2013, which set out to address a number of obvious shortcomings in existing efforts to combat drought, including:
Inadequate, or inadequately accessible information resources and databases on weather conditions, water resources, and historical records of droughts;
Poor coordination between affected sectors and stakeholders within a country, and among countries in within a region;
Lack of capacity to implement measures to mitigate the effects of drought, particularly at lower government levels;
Insufficient political will to address drought resilience at a national level;
And a lack of research on the economics of drought, in the sense that the benefits or drawbacks of drought resilience—as opposed to the economic cost of recovery—are poorly defined and understood.
The policy statement from the Geneva meeting—which was signed by the Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, and the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN—made four recommendations to develop drought mitigation and drought resilience programs. First, drought should not be considered as an ‘event’ in a policy context, but as a constant risk. Second, drought monitoring and warning systems need to be strengthened. Third, risk profiling of countries and regions must be significantly improved. And finally, “practical” drought risk mitigation measures must be developed. These include sustainable irrigation systems for crops and livestock, monitoring water use for agriculture and other purposes, improving the recycling and reuse of water, expanding the research into more drought-tolerant crops, and expanding crop insurance.