Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 40, Fall/Winter 1996
The CCD, Part I: Africa and the Mediterranean

On desertification, partnerships, and the changing of the guard

by Katherine Waser

"The challenge of combating desertification is of such a magnitude (...) that needed action goes well beyond what individual governments can do."

--Boutros Boutros-Ghali
U.N. Secretary-General
on the occasion
of the 50th ratification of
the CCD

Desertification. We've all heard the term; but what does it mean? Where is desertification occurring? And, most important, what can be done--what is being done--to halt and ultimately reverse its effects?

The use of the term "desertification" has been controversial, because it has often led to a perception that desertification only affects deserts and/or that it is a completely natural process. Both of these perceptions are false. However, the term has an undeniable ring to it that captures the imagination--as witness its use in the title of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, the focus of both this and the next issue of the Arid Lands Newsletter.

Thus, for anyone (or any publication) speaking of desertification, it becomes of utmost importance to clarify how the term is being defined. The Arid Lands Newsletter hereby adopts the definition used both by Agenda 21 of the 1992 Rio Summit and by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Convention to Combat Desertification (INCD):

"Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities."

In this definition, the acknowledgement of the significance of human activities as a cause of desertification is reason both for frustration and for hope. The frustration is due to the complexity of such human impacts and the difficulty of untangling and addressing their effects. Overgrazing, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil salinization due to irrigation practices, conflict among or within nations and the resulting mass movements of refugees, lack of food security--all of these human impacts, and more, are contributing factors to desertification.

And yet, if human activities greatly contribute to desertification, there is consequently real hope that human activities can greatly contribute to the reversal of desertification as well. The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) is a major international effort to recognize this and to put in place mechanisms that will effectively mobilize human energy, enthusiasm, and activities to achieve such reversal.

The CCD has been ratified by more than 50 countries to date and will become legally binding on all ratifying countries by the end of this year. Because of the importance of this Convention, I have decided to devote two issues of the newsletter to it. In this issue, the focus is on Africa and the Mediterranean, two of the four major geographic regions identified in the Convention. Issue No. 41, to be published in Spring 1997, will focus on the geographic regions of Asia and the Americas.

Partnerships and the Changing of the Guard. One of the innovations of the CCD is its insistence on creating multi-player partnerships to achieve its desired ends. Similarly, the publication of a newsletter such as this one is dependent upon a partnership between editor and authors. I count myself truly fortunate to have had such capable and informative authors as my partners in the creation of this, my first "from-scratch issue of the newsletter. In fact, since I became Editor at the Arid Lands Information Center last February, one of the most exciting developments for me has been the opportunities the job has given me for getting in touch with so many people around the world who are working on arid lands issues. I greatly look forward to hearing from, meeting, and working with many more of you in future, whether electronically, on paper, or in person.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor, John Bancroft, for his extremely capable pioneering efforts on the development of this World Wide Web version of the Arid Lands Newsletter. Because of all his hard work, my job has been made that much easier. As many of you know, John has relocated to Florida, where he now heads his own Web site design company, Bancroft & Associates: Web Sites That Work. Thank you, John, and best of luck with all your future endeavors.

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