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Press Release 01/38


Rome, 15 June 2001 - More than 100 countries, covering some 3 600 million hectares, are seriously affected by desertification, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said today in a statement marking Desertification Control Day on Sunday.

Dr. Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General (Forestry Department), said desertification is like a 'disease of the earth' which seriously affects the vegetative cover of croplands, pastures and woodlands, and has negative impact on biological diversity, soil fertility, the hydrological cycle, crop yields and livestock production.

One of the main causes of desertification is increasing pressure on land resulting from rapid demographic growth and poverty, often aggravated by increasingly recurrent droughts. Combating desertification is complex and requires a long-term commitment and national and international coordination. Local communities must be actively involved in decision-making processes.

In 1994 the international community launched the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which became operational in November 1997, at a conference hosted by FAO in Rome. Today more than 180 countries have ratified the Convention, but only a few of them have implemented substantial programmes and policies that support the UNCCD.

"FAOs active involvement in the fight against desertification is vital not only in relation to its mandate to help countries manage forest resources, and preserve soils, water resources, vegetation and biodiversity, but also in fulfilling its mandate to promote food security, particularly of vulnerable rural populations," Dr. El-Lakany said.

FAO is supporting the implementation of national action programmes to combat desertification in Mali, China, Senegal, Turkey, Chile, Cuba, Yemen, Lebanon and Cambodia. It is also giving particular emphasis to dry countries through its Special Programme on Food Security.

In Africa, FAO is strengthening its cooperation with UNSO and the CILSS for desertification control in the Sahelian region and West Africa. The Organization coordinated the UN initiative on the Horn of Africa which includes countries most affected by desertification.

Desertification Control Day is a reminder to all that the battle against desertification needed to be integrated with the fight against hunger and poverty, Dr. El-Lakany said. In November this year, world leaders will gather in Rome to evaluate progress made since the 1996 World Food Summit in reducing world hunger, focusing in particular on the need to mobilize the political will and the resources to tackle these critical development issues.


For further enquiries please contact Mr. Dominique Lantieri, Sustainable Development Department at FAO, Tel 06 5705 3295

or visit UNCCD or FAO websites at:;

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