It would be a mistake to view the various ecological trends such as desertification as isolated, localized threats. Local threats they certainly are. But, they also form a mosaic whose patterns help define many of the key global concerns of our age -issues which, directly or indirectly, touch upon the lives of everyone.
Desertification is a complex phenomena whose effects are manifested socially. The hardships suffered by the millions who stay behind in a land gradually losing all its productivity and the millions of those who decide to leave their impoverished surroundings to an even more miserable existence in an urban setting - are the social manifestations of this malaise.
These marginalized citizens - often women - have little support and few to care for them. Economically invisible, they do not appear on the spread-sheets of economists; they may have very little access to community services, to national programmes, even to the processes of democracy. They may have no security of tenure on their land or even for the trees they plant.
Programmes in the past to control desertification have had limited success. Those which succeeded did so only in some areas and only for limited periods. Even small projects which were successful have seldom been replicable over large areas. The reasons for our failure are apparent: a palpable lack of political will, inadequate resources, emphasis on abstract planning rather than on field action, and neglect of the social dimensions of the problem.
Today, we have the knowledge and technical skills to halt these destructive trends. But it is political and economic factors, not scientific research, that will determine whether or not the wisdom accumulating in our libraries will be put into practice.
Governments must create the conditions of security of tenure and food security, within which these resilient but marginalized people can maintain sustainable livelihoods for themselves. If they do not, more people will suffer and require direct support, millions will migrate and the pressures and social tensions on the humid lands and the urban areas around the world will increase. Endless humanitarian relief after each succeeding crisis has inevitably occurred is not the answer. It is in the interest of all of us that Governments act now to help the disadvantaged help themselves.
UNEP News Release.
For use as information. Not an official record
Message from Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme
For more information:
Mrs. Sheila Edwards
Land Unit, UNEP Headquarters
Ms. Patricia L. Jacobs
UNEP News Release 1997/46