World Day to Combat Desertification 2009

June 16, 2009

  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, land degradation poses a risk to human security.
  • Desertification is "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas".
  • A substantial improvement in land management practices is necessary to reduce the risk of land degradation.

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2009 – Around 85 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans live in rural areas and are fully dependent on the land for their livelihoods. Most are small scale farming communities reliant on rainfall.

Land degradation, and desertification, a specific type of degradation common in Africa, presents risks to human security by reducing the productivity and resilience of croplands, rangelands and woodlands, as well as the useful life of infrastructure such as reservoirs and canals. It reduces the availability of food, fodder and fuel wood, and compromises critical life-sustaining functions including water filtering, flood control, drought resistance and carbon storage in soil and vegetation. In worst-case scenarios, land degradation also has the potential to trigger conflict over natural resources. When these factors are taken together, land degradation places an unnecessary drag on economic growth.

According to the United Nations, "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities" constitutes desertification.  World Day to Combat Desertification, recognized on June 17, highlights the opportunities for international cooperation to combat the threats of desertification.

A substantial improvement in land management practices in Sub-Saharan Africa is necessary to secure conservation and production goals including higher crop and livestock productivity, more reliable access to household energy and water resources, maintenance of biodiversity, and reduced risks from greater climate variability and change. Generally, action is needed at the local, national and regional levels to increase the ability of the public sector to assess, design and implement appropriate policies and investments.

As the world recognizes this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification, the World Bank Group is doing its part to reduce land degradation risks to sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Bank’s work centers on scaling up support for sustainable land and water management practices, reinforced by strategic regional activities, in particular in the context of the TerrAfrica platform for scaling-up sustainable land management. In Sub-Saharan Africa, TerrAfrica has mobilized $150 million in funds that are expected to leverage an additional $1 billion to support this goal. Both TerrAfrica and NEPAD are working with African governments to develop and support Country Strategic Investment Frameworks (CSIFs), aimed at integrating strategies and programs to promote SLM with a focus on strategies to address climate change, and to mainstream these within national development strategies and policies.

Land Degradation Facts:

  • An estimated 485 million Africans (65 percent of the entire African population) are affected by land degradation.
  • Approximately 22 percent of vegetated land (almost 500 million hectares) of Africa has been degraded, and 66 percent of this area is classified as moderately, severely, or extremely degraded.
  • About 11 percent of total African land area (332 million hectares) is drylands affected by human-induced soil degradation.

Economic Effects:

  • The cost of land degradation in Madagascar is 15 percent of GDP, or US$290 million, mostly attributable to deforestation.
  • The annual cost of soil erosion in Uganda is in the order of US$132-396 million.
  • Ghana has experienced an annual productivity loss of 2.9 percent in all crops and livestock due to erosion and nutrient depletion.  This translates into approximately two to five percent of agricultural GDP.
  • Ethiopia suffers from yearly losses of US$106 million from nutrient removal from agricultural areas, US$23 million from forest losses, and US$10 million from the loss of livestock capacity, amounting in all to US$139 million or about three percent of agricultural GDP.
  • The gross annual income loss from desertification amounts to US$332-355 million (10-11 percent of AGDP) in Ethiopia, US$67-78 million (9.5-11 percent of AGDP) in Malawi, and US$58-68 million (5.5 - 6.5 percent of AGDP) in Mali.