Drylands and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
Some 47% of the Earth's terrestrial surface are drylands. Drylands, which include hyperarid, arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, make up more than 50% of the world's productive land. These areas are increasingly threatened by desertification. Desertification means land degradation, caused by climatic variation and human activities, such as overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices. Desertification threatens the livelihood of more than 1 billion people in all regions of the world. On the other hand, people in drylands have developed land-use practices, which sustainably use the natural resources and effectively safeguard the biological diversity.
Drylands and biodiversity
Dryland biodiversity includes a range of ecosystems, harbouring a wide variety of species and genetic diversity. These ecosystems are the centres of origin of many crop plants. The largest assemblies of mammals in the world inhabit the East African savannas. Drylands are also of great importance to birds.
Dryland birds are characterised by families such as larks and bustards of which eight and four species, respectively, are globally threatened. Many raptors, parrots and finches also depend on drylands. Many dryland ecosystems are of outstanding importance for birds. Grasslands, shrublands and savannas are, after forests, the second most important habitat for Globally Threatened Birds, with 32% of these species using such habitats. Subtropical and tropical dry forests are an additional important habitat for Globally Threatened Birds.
Many Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are situated in drylands. In Africa, 38 IBAs have been designated for the species they hold which are restricted to the Sahel biome while a further 73 IBAs harbour species typical of the Somali-Masai biome. More than 400 IBAs in Europe contain steppe or dry calcareous grassland. Some 78% of the 391 IBAs in the Middle East, support predominantly dry habitat types (bushland 18%, grassland 23%, agriculture 20%, desert 17%).
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD)
The UNCCD is often referred to as one of the Rio Conventions, alongside the Climate Change Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity. It was negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and was adopted in June 1994. The Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa – that's its full name - entered into force in December 1996 and currently has 185 country Parties. It has two objectives:
- to combat desertification and
- to mitigate the effects of drought.
The UNCCD's implementation is to be achieved mainly through National Action Programmes (NAPs). The NAPs follow a bottom-up approach: involving rural communities and non-governmental organisations from the early stages of developing the NAPs through to their implementation. See the UNCCD's website for more details.
BirdLife International and the UNCCD
Birds are affected by desertification, particularly through the deterioration and loss of habitats, with deforestation and the degradation of wetlands being amongst the greatest threats. In cooperation with the International NGO Network on Desertification (RIOD), BirdLife has been working with the UNCCD Conferences of the Parties and the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC). A focus has been on advocating stronger links with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Migratory Species.
BirdLife Partners in some African countries address desertification through projects, which include, for example,
- raising public awareness on biodiversity in drylands and the threats from land degradation
- assisting natural regeneration of vegetation
- tree planting
- supporting the sustainable use by rural communities of natural resources in protected areas.
The National Action Programmes offer the BirdLife network the opportunity to contribute through the submission of information on sites of high value for biodiversity, such as the Important Bird Areas. BirdLife Partners can also support the implementation of the UNCCD by integrating conservation projects into the NAP process.
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