Some 400 scientists, experts and decision-makers from the world’s dryland regions today adopted the Tunis Declaration on research priorities to promote sustainable development in arid zones and combat desertification. The Declaration was adopted at the close of a three-day meeting, the Future of Drylands conference, a landmark event in the United Nations International Year of Deserts and Desertification, which was co-organized by UNESCO. Notable areas of research singled out by the Declaration as priorities include: the interdependence and conservation of cultural and biological diversity, integrated management of water resources, the identification of sustainable livelihoods for the inhabitants of drylands, renewable energy suitable for dryland development, coping with and management of natural and man-made disasters, and the costs related to inaction in the field of land degradation.*
In his closing address at the conference, Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Natural Sciences expressed the hope that the Declaration “will be a major step forward on the joint path of the scientific community and decision-makers to help promote sustainable development in the world’s drylands and to reach the overall Millennium Development Goals. We must promote and apply sound science for dryland development,” he said.
The importance of dryland development becomes clear when considering that desertification threatens over one third of the Earth’s land surface, and that it affects directly 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 US$42 billion annually. Another US$2.4 billion is spent each year fighting land degradation. Experts believe that the problem is likely to worsen.
Sponsored by UNESCO, the Conference, which marks 50 years of United Nations research on arid lands, was held under the High Auspices of the President of Tunisia, H. E. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, OSS, 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).
* The Tunis Declaration