Desertification: Annan makes plea to international community

Land degradation can be stopped if the effort is made
 While billions are squandered on warfare, millions of people are at risk due to wholly avoidable environmental problems, often created by man. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a plea to the international community yesterday to join together in a concerted effort to halt the spread of desertification.

Long-term food security and the eradication of poverty have long been the main goals of the UNO in areas of deprivation. Each year the statistics are issued and every time the response is the same: the international community needs to donate more money, promises are made, pledges are given and the following year, the same statistics are churned out again like a perpetual-motion engine.

Speaking on the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, Kofi Annan stated that "Human activities such as overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices, along with climate change, are turning once fertile soils into unproductive and barren patches of land, the result being human suffering on a lasting and massive scale".

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of refugees is rising, not falling; the figure is expected to reach 25 million people by 2023. Those who are unable to move to more prosperous areas within their countries have two options: starvation or emigration, the reasons for which are often wholly understood by the residents of the host country.

George F, from Nigeria, arrived in Lisbon two months ago, where he is currently staying with friends as an illegal immigrant. He told Pravda.Ru the story of his incredible journey which took him across the Sahara Desert.

"We were a group of fifteen. Six of us made it, the others died along the way, among them my wife and my brother. The route is well known but it is dangerous. The sun is only part of the problem , the rest is the fear you have of being robbed or beaten". George, a farmer, claims he had no other option but to emigrate.

After walking across the Sahara, he arrived in Morocco, where a clandestine network brought him to Spain, then Lisbon, where he is working as a builder's assistant, receiving 1,100 USD per month. However, sub-Saharan Africa is not the only part of the world affected.

Close examination of photographs taken by satellite show that there is a line, as yet invisible to the naked eye but clearly visible from space, which stretches across the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula and Italy, across half of Greece and Turkey and goes on into southern Russia.

In 2002, millions of tonnes of fertile topsoil were lost in Australia, which suffered its worst drought in recent history while in India, 2.5 million hectares are devastated by drought every year, becoming a growing dustbowl.

No continent is exempt. In Latin America, 70% of Mexico's land is subject to desertification, with the resulting one million migrants each year flowing across the border into the United States.

Fighting desertification has been discussed for too long. The UN Treaty to Combat Desertification was signed in 1994 millions of people, growing and not diminishing in number, continue to suffer every year, a scourge which has global consequences on a humanitarian, social and economic level.

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey