Earth loses 100 million hectares of healthy land each year

FILE PHOTO: General view of buildings during a sandstorm in Cairo, Egypt, May 27, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) revealed, during the 21st session of the UNCCD Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 21) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the Data Dashboard which compiles national reporting figures from 126 countries. The report showed that there is an acceleration of land degradation across all regions. Between 2015 and 2019, the world witnessed an annual loss of at least 100 million hectares of healthy and productive land, equivalent to twice the size of Greenland.

These figures show the urgent need for action, as escalating land degradation continues to disrupt markets, communities, and ecosystems globally.

Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Secretary of UNCCD, showcased the data reveal the rapid loss of healthy land worldwide and stressed the immediate attention required to tackle land degradation. The Data Dashboard highlights a global reality with considerable disparities in the proportion of degraded land across regions. Eastern and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean regions experience the most severe degradation, affecting at least 20 percent of their total land area. Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africa, Western and Southern Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean experienced land degradation at rates faster than the global average. In sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean, 163 million hectares and 108 million hectares, respectively, have succumbed to land degradation since 2015.

Despite the overall grim situation, there are instances of positive action in combatting desertification, land degradation, and drought. For example, Botswana has reduced land degradation from 36% to 17% of its territory and committed 45.3 million hectares to land degradation neutrality. In the Dominican Republic, the proportion of degraded land has decreased from 49% to 31% between 2015 and 2019.

Even if Uzbekistan reported the highest proportion of degraded land in the Central Asia region, it also saw the largest decrease, from 30% to 26%, compared to 2015. Between 2018-2022, Uzbekistan carried out tree planting on an area of 1.6 million ha to eliminate salt and dust emissions from the drained bottom of the Aral Sea.

While global land degradation trends are concerning, UNCCD data suggests that meeting and surpassing land degradation neutrality goals is still possible. However, urgent measures are required, including halting further degradation and accelerating efforts to restore one billion hectares of land by 2030.

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