2006 International Year of Desertification - Scientists meet in Tunis to discuss the future of drylandsScientists, field experts and decisions makers from the world’s drylands regions will meet in Tunis from 19 to 21 June to explore ways of managing these critical zones in a more sustainable way and to combat desertification. The Future of Drylands conference is one of the landmark events of the United Nations International Year of Deserts and Desertification and celebrates 50 years of UN research in this area.
Desertification threatens over one third of the Earth’s land surface, or some four billion hectares. It directly affects the lives of more than 250 million people and threatens another 1.2 billion in 110 countries. An estimated 60 million of those affected in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to move towards northern Africa and Europe by 2020.
The economic impact is also considerable. Lost agricultural production due to drought and desertification costs an estimated $42 billion annually. Another $2.4 billion is spent each year fighting land degradation. Experts believe that the problem is likely to worsen.
“In the 1950s’ a great sense of optimism prevailed that we could green the world’s deserts,” said Walter Erdelen, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Science. “It was believed that techniques such as cloud seeding […] could bring rainfall to dry areas, that improved irrigation techniques could boost agricultural production, and selective breeding could create livestock less dependent on water.
“That technological optimism has been replaced by realism and concern. Current climate scenarios predict that the driest regions of the world will become even drier. Freshwater is reaching critical quality and threshold levels, even in temperate zones. Despite technological advances in genetic modification of organisms to be drought and pest resistant, drylands countries are still among the poorest in the world.”
The conference participants will review research over the past 50 years and assess our current knowledge of dryland ecosystems and the socio-economic development of these regions. They will identify knowledge gaps and define future research paths in order to fill those gaps and provide scientific and technical advice to decision-makers.
Specific workshop themes to be addressed during the three-day conference include: conservation of biodiversity; sustainable land use and agriculture; monitoring and forecasting; policy, governance and socio-economic dynamics in changing drylands; disaster and risk management; dryland hydrology and water management; viable dryland livelihoods and policy options; and education and knowledge sharing in drylands.
The Conference, which is also part of the celebrations for the World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June, is held under the High Auspices of the President of Tunisia, H. E. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and sponsored by UNESCO, the Tunisian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, GEF, DDPA, and The Flemish Government of Belgium. Partner organizations include CMS, FAO, ICSU, IFAD, NORAD, OSS, UN/ISDR, UNCCD, UNDP, UNEP, UNU, WMO, and the Office of Arid Lands Studies at the University of Arizona (USA).