Desertification is a land degradation problem of major importance in the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of the world. Deterioration of soil and plant cover has adversely affected 70% of the world's drylands as a result of extended droughts and human mismanagement of cultivated and range lands. The situation is likely to worsen, with high population growth rates and accompanying land use conflicts. But it is also important to remember that drylands have been cradles to some of the world's greatest civilizations, and contemporary dryland communities preserve rich and unique cultures. In addition, dryland ecosystems, especially those in montane areas, support a surprising and valuable amount of biodiversity.
'The Future of Drylands' conference will provide a highly visible international forum for addressing these issues and disseminating practical solutions for combating desertification as well as conserving and sustainably managing dryland ecosystems. Major conference themes will address both research and natural science issues, including conservation of dryland biological and cultural diversity and the human-dryland interface
The conference will also mark 50 years of drylands research, dating back to the International Arid Lands Meetings, originally held in New Mexico (USA) in 1955. Those meetings, organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and sponsored by UNESCO with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, identified a number of key drylands issues. Fifty years later, our understanding of drylands has vastly improved, and the amount of data available with which to study drylands has virtually exploded. The 2006 'The Future of Drylands' conference will provide an occasion to assess the "health" and future prospects of the world's drylands within the framework of the previous 50 years of research and experience.
The conference will include multiple plenary speakers, oral and poster sessions and will bring together leading dryland scientists, field experts, practitioners, and decision-makers from all the world's dryland regions.
This conference will focus on drylands research, conservation, policy and sustainable drylands development. Organized by UNESCO in partnership with several international organizations, the conference is held within the context of the United Nations International Year of Deserts and Desertification (2006) as part of our collective efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals. The conference will also mark 50 years of drylands research within the UN System.