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World Drought and Desertification Day: Eritrea’s Commitment to Land Restoration and Sustainable Development

By :- Habtom Tesfamichael

Having been officially declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994, the International Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is annually observed on June 17. The objectives of the day are to raise public awareness about effective ways to address the critical issues of desertification and drought.

The goal is to convey the message that there are realistic solutions available, and that the most effective methods involve strengthening community participation at all levels. Another key aim is to reinforce the implementation process of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, particularly in countries facing serious drought and desertification challenges, including those in Africa.

How does desertification affect us?

Desertification is a global concern that directly impacts all of us, no matter where we live. Approximately 23% of the world’s land area is no longer productive, and 75% of the land has been degraded through human activities over the past 50 years. This rapid and unprecedented change in land degradation is becoming alarmingly visible.

Everyone should understand the direct impact of desertification, land degradation and drought on our daily activities, and that our own actions can either exacerbate or tackle these challenges.

Healthy and restored land is our first line of defense against natural disasters like droughts and floods. With 99% of the world’s energy needs coming from the earth, ensuring the sustainability of our land is crucial for human well-being.

Ensuring sustainable land management is the responsibility of everyone. Working together, we can restore the productivity of more than 2 billion hectares of poor land and improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people.

Global and Local Challenges

Globally, about 40% of the world’s land is affected by degradation. Every second, an area the size of a football field turns into desert, amounting to 100 million hectares of fertile land lost annually. Climate change and mismanagement of natural resources have also led to a 29% increase in drought incidents since 2000.

In Eritrea, deforestation and unsustainable farming practices have exposed the land to erosion and degradation, making it vulnerable to drought and desertification.

Opportunities for Action

Under global commitments, one billion hectares of deserted land can be rehabilitated by 2030. Investing in land restoration can yield economic benefits ranging from $1 to $30 for every dollar spent, and create jobs for up to 600 million young people.

Mr. Semere Amlesom

Eritrea is taking action, with water conservation and afforestation being policy priorities. Community-based efforts, including student and defense forces involvement, have led to the construction of over 110,000 hectares of contour bunds, the planting of 148 million tree seedlings, and the establishment of over 396,000 hectares of land closures for rehabilitation.

Looking ahead, Eritrea’s strategic plans aim to treat 80,000 hectares of agricultural land and 45,000 hectares of uncultivated land, and construct 397,500 cubic meters of check dams and 77 new water reservoirs by 2028. To combat drought and to achieve safe food and nutrition security as part of the five years strategic plan, there is a program that goes by the mantra “nutritious food for all, everywhere”. The new program will help farmers adopt sustainable farming practices on 1,000 square meters of land.

Collective action against these challenges is central to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The consequences of one decade of land degradation can cause significant damage, while a one-decade effort of land recovery can provide a wide variety of benefits.

Commemorating World Desertification and Drought Day in Eritrea

On June 17th, Eritrea joined the global community in observing World Desertification and Drought Day. The event was held at the premises of the Confederation of Eritrean Workers in Asmara. It brought together government officials, representatives from UN agencies, experts from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), representatives from various ministries, and officials from the Forest and Wildlife Authority.

In his keynote speech of the day, Mr. Semere Amlesom, Director of the Agricultural Extension Division of the MoA, said “As we commemorate the World Day of Combating Drought and Desertification, our focus and the world’s focus is on ensuring healthy land for future generations, and driving global prosperity and stability.” This year, it’s being marked under the theme “United for Land: Our Legacy, Our Future” and seeks to mobilize all segments of the society in support of sustainable land stewardship.

Mr. Semere emphasized that the earth is the foundation for all life, and 95% of the world’s agricultural production is land-based. However, he warned that one-third of the land used for agricultural production has declined in productivity due to land degradation, negatively impacting about 3.2 billion people globally. This is leading to increased hunger, poverty, unemployment, and forced migration.

Located in a region prone to drought and desertification, Eritrea is greatly affected by these issues. Mr. Semere called for a concerted effort to fight back by mobilizing resources. He highlighted Eritrea’s achievements in combating drought and desertification through the joint efforts of the members of communities, students, members of the defense forces, and government employees.

Mrs. Nashida Sattar

Mrs. Nashida Sattar, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, also spoke at the event. In her speech she stressed the urgency of promoting awareness about the critical issues of desertification, land degradation, and drought that are affecting the global population. She noted that up to 40% of the planet’s land is degraded, and 75% has been transformed from its natural state.

In the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea, desertification, land degradation, and drought remain significant threats, affecting 100 million people. Ms. Sattar acknowledged Eritrea’s efforts, including the signing and ratification of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, water and soil conservation activities, the construction of water reservoirs and dams, and the National Greening Campaign launched in 2006.
Five research papers on a range of critical topics were also presented at the event.

The first paper examined Eritrea’s commitments and experiences under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The researchers provided an overview of the country’s national action plan and the progress made in its implementation.

Another paper focused on Eritrea’s drought monitoring and forecasting capabilities, as well as the assessment of the impacts of drought on the country’s agriculture and natural resources. This work is crucial in helping communities prepare for and mitigate the effects of persistent dry conditions.

A paper was also presented on initiatives to regulate salinization and combat land degradation, which threaten the productivity of Eritrea’s farmlands. Experts shared best practices and innovative solutions being implemented nationwide.

The role of agroforestry systems in combating desertification, land degradation, and drought was another key topic dealt with. The researchers highlighted how these integrated land-use systems can enhance the health of soil, increase biodiversity, and improve local resilience.

Finally, the potential of date palm plantations to combat desertification and address climate change was explored. Participants learned about the environmental and economic benefits of this hardy, drought-resistant plant.

Following the insightful presentations, conference attendees engaged in a lively discussion, raising questions and sharing opinions. The panelists and representatives from relevant government bodies provided thoughtful responses, further deepening the understanding of Eritrea’s efforts in this critical area.

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