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|DesertWATCH: UN's World Environment Day to focus on drylands
The United Nations’ celebration of World Environment Day will be held on Monday, June 5 in Algiers, Algeria.
This year’s theme ‘Deserts and Desertification: Don’t Desert Drylands!’ emphasises the importance of protecting drylands, which cover 40% of the world's land surface and are the habitat and source of livelihood for nearly two billion people.
Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said: “For most dryland dwellers, life is hard and the future often precarious. They live on the ecological, economic and social margins. It is essential that we do not neglect them or the fragile habitats on which they depend.” World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 as an event that encourages governments, individuals and community groups to participate proactively in countless activities to improve the environment.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) chooses the theme and location for the event every year. This year marks the first time the official celebrations are held in North Africa. Algeria is an appropriate location for the event since a large portion of the country is covered by the sands of the Sahara, the world's largest desert.
Of the 5200 million hectares of drylands used for agriculture, more than 70% are classed as degraded. Africa, Asia and Latin America are particularly under threat, but some 30 million hectares of European territory bordering the Mediterranean are also affected, potentially threatening the livelihoods of 16.5 million people.
The good news is that dryland desertification can be remedied or even reversed, using appropriate land management techniques. Forecasting is needed of areas most at risk, and this is what satellites can provide.
ESA is backing a satellite-based information service called DesertWATCH, working with national partners of four of the European countries most affected by desertification: the Greek, Italian, Portuguese and Turkish National Representatives to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).