World Environment Day 2024

Land restoration, desertification and drought resilience

Published at : 05 June 2024, 09:00 am
Land restoration, desertification and drought resilience

World Environment Day is celebrated on June 5 every year, reminding us of our responsibility to our planet and urging us to take action to protect the environment. The theme for this year is “Land restoration, desertification and drought resilience” and was set by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). 

This year's theme, 'Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience,' underscores the urgent need to address land degradation, desertification, and drought. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the host country of this year's Environment Day. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), a testament to our collective commitment to environmental preservation.

According to UNCCD, up to 40 per cent of the world's land is degraded, directly affecting half of the world's population and threatening nearly half of the global GDP (44 trillion US dollars). The number and duration of droughts have increased by 29 per cent since 2000—without urgent action, droughts could affect three-quarters of the world's population by 2050. These staggering figures underscore the global impact of land degradation, desertification, and drought, making the # GenerationRestoration movement all the more crucial.

The UNCCD estimates that over two billion hectares of land have already been degraded, a third of the Earth's land mass. The World Bank estimates that land degradation causes economic losses of more than $300 billion worldwide each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that climate change will intensify land degradation, leading to more extreme weather events, warming, and precipitation patterns.

Desertification and drought, two of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, are wreaking havoc across the globe. A quarter of the world's land is already desertified, and the United Nations warns that ecological disasters are causing an average of two square kilometres of new desertification each year in certain regions. This is not a problem we can afford to ignore. It's a crisis that demands immediate attention and action, making the # GenerationRestoration movement more vital than ever.

This is not just a local problem but a global concern that affects us all. Moreover, large areas of fertile land are being eroded due to waterlogging and salinity, posing a significant threat to our future. For this reason, it has become imperative to prevent the spread of land erosion and desertification.

Desertification and drought seriously impact global biodiversity, environmental security, poverty alleviation, socioeconomic stability and sustainable development. The United Nations predicts that desertification and drought will displace 750 million people worldwide in the next decade.

A Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) study says that in 30 years, human demand will surpass all records. As a result, about 60 per cent more food will be needed than now. Researchers fear shortages of food and other supplies could cause a crisis. It is not impossible to start a conflict from this. One of the causes of this conflict will be desertification and drought.

Again, climate change is causing rising sea levels or cyclone-induced tidal surges, flooding coastal areas, increasing soil salinity, and damaging cropland. Apart from this, non-rainfall or excess rainfall during the required period has been observed for several years. This is hurting agriculture as a whole.

According to a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), current rates of greenhouse gas emissions will raise the global average temperature by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 compared to pre-industrial levels and by 1.7 to 2.4 by 2050. By the end of this century, temperatures could rise by 1.8 to 4.4 degrees Celsius. According to the IPCC, the temperature of Bangladesh may increase by 0.44 to 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030 compared to the beginning of the pre-industrial revolution. By 2050, it may increase by 1.3 to 2 degrees Celsius.

Low-lying coastal areas of Bangladesh are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels due to global warming. A large part of Bangladesh's coastal area may disappear under the sea by the end of the century unless adequate measures are taken to reduce carbon emissions shortly. It is estimated that 3.3 million people could lose their land by 2050 and 4.3 million by 2080 due to sea level rise.

This is stated considering only the direct impact of sea cyclones. Considering salinity, soil fertility reduction, flooding, river erosion and other effects, by 2080, more than 5 to 9 million people will be displaced from the greater coastal area. Many people will move to the city in search of livelihood. New slums will develop in the town, indirectly disturbing the environment.

After reviewing the overall situation of Bangladesh, analysts fear that our country is also moving towards desertification. The leading causes of desertification are barren land over large areas, drying up of rivers and canals and lack of rainfall.

These symptoms have been prevalent in Bangladesh for decades. According to a recent study, drought-prone areas will expand in Bangladesh's central and coastal regions. This will have an impact on agriculture and the overall environment.

Another risk is that reservoirs that hold rainwater are also endangered. They are drying up due to unplanned urbanisation and indiscriminate filling of wetlands. Due to this, the rivers have been thoroughly dried up in most places for several decades. According to a survey by the Ministry of Water Resources, the total number of rivers in the country is 310. Among them, 117 rivers are dead and nearly dead. Every year, some river branches are gradually closing due to silting.

Climate change will adversely affect Bangladesh's agriculture, food security, biodiversity, health, freshwater, and coastal areas. Experts fear climate change will increase future rainfall and floods, reduce food production by 30 per cent and increase levels of hunger and poverty.

As temperatures rise and Himalayan glaciers melt further, the foothills will face catastrophic flooding. Restoration of degraded land is urgently needed to counter this potentially disastrous situation. This is the best solution identified by the United Nations.

The Bangladesh government has taken multifaceted measures to prevent land degradation, desertification, and drought tolerance, i.e., to deal with the effects of climate change. Effective implementation of them can save us from future calamities.

Land degradation, desertification and drought have emerged as urgent threats to our beloved planet. But, if we work together, we can solve these problems and build a more sustainable future.

World Environment Day 2024 carries a message of hope and empowerment. We have the knowledge, technology and resources to heal the world. The challenge is to mobilise our collective willpower and take concrete action. 

But, working together, taking the slogan #GenerationRestoration to heart, we can effectively prevent land degradation, desertification and drought resilience and build a sustainable future for humanity and nature.

The writer is a researcher and development worker.