World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought | "Her Land. Her Rights"
Mr Youssouf Amadou
Technical Project Support,
Sahara and Sahel Observatory
Desertification and drought are having considerable consequences on the increasingly numerous countries they affect. Many countries around the world are vulnerable to the devastating effects of drought on natural resources and people's quality of life. In recent years, Europe, the western United States, Chile, Australia and the Horn of Africa have all experienced episodes of extreme drought that highlighted the global scale that the problem has taken.
Over the past two decades, from 1998 to 2017, droughts have caused economic losses that amount to $124 billion worldwide, causing human suffering and loss (source: IDRA). Drought risks are unevenly distributed and hit hardest those who are less able to cope, women being particularly affected. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the countries most affected by desertification and land degradation are mainly located in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In Africa, desertification and drought are a major challenge for rural communities who depend on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood. Climate change, deforestation, unsustainable agriculture and overexploitation of natural resources are all key drivers that exacerbate to this phenomenon that directly leads to the loss of fertile land, the reduction of water resources, the degradation of ecosystems and the threat to food security.
Desertification and drought have considerable repercussions on African populations such as poverty, forced migration, conflicts over natural resources and gender disparities. Women, who represent the majority of agricultural workers, have a hard time accessing land, natural resources and support services, such as bank credit, training and infrastructure.
June 17 marks the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought and is an opportunity to raise public awareness on these critical issues and encourage international cooperation in the fight against this scourge. This year's theme has come to honor women "Her Land. Her Rights" and to highlight the importance of ensuring equal access to land for women, especially indigenous people.
African women are often excluded from decision-making processes on land issues. According to an African Union report, they only own 1% of the land in Africa and represent only 15% of the holders of official land rights. This precarious situation exposes them to risks of displacement, marginalization and poverty.
Yet, women are key players in the fight against drought and climate change and have valuable knowledge of traditional agricultural practices, natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. They are also environmental and human rights defenders and contribute to the resilience of communities in the face of climate disruptions. What Wangari Muta Maathai (2004 Nobel Peace Prize, activist and founder of the Green Belt Movement) did, is an inspiring example of how women's commitment to the environment can contribute to strengthen the resilience of communities and their actions to combat deforestation and desertification.
To enable women to fully play their role in the fight against desertification and drought, it is highly important to guarantee their land rights. This requires practical measures to promote gender equality in land policies, build women's capacity in land management and provide them with financial and technical support for their agricultural and natural resource management activities.
The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is an opportunity to remember that access to land is a fundamental right for women, especially indigenous people, and an essential condition for guaranteeing their food security, economic independence and dignity. It is also a call to action for governments, civil society organizations and the private sector to show a stronger commitment to gender equality and the fight against drought in Africa and around the world.
It is important to call for collective action to support desertification and drought combat initiatives, by investing in sustainable solutions, building local capacities and promoting international cooperation. The initiatives to be supported can be innovative projects for soil conservation, water management, reforestation and sustainable agricultural practices, aimed at restoring degraded ecosystems and strengthening the resilience of African communities. The Great Green Wall Initiative is a telling example of such a project.
We celebrate this day to reaffirm our commitment to gender equality, social justice and the preservation of our environment. Together, we can help build a world where women have the right to equally own, use and benefit from land, for the good of all and for future generations.
The OSS, member Organization of the International Drought Resilience Alliance (IDRA) launched on the occasion of the 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, joined other partners at the United Nations water conference in New York on March 23, 2023, to put drought resilience on top of the global political agenda (https://idralliance.global).
Ringing the bell is good, acting is even better!