A bi-monthly update on the work of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)


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In this issue







From the Executive Secretary
Safeguarding a sustainable water supply for all the world's people will become a greater challenge in the decades to come, because water is a finite resource. A holistic approach which links sustainable management of water resources and land is essential. More…

Publications, videos and websites More…

A truly integrated approach to water and land
For preserving our global water supplies, water resources management and governance alone cannot preserve our global water supplies unless combined with a sustainable approach to land management. More…

Land for water – water for land
Dr Mohamed Ait Kadi, chair of the Global Water Partnership Technical Committee, shares his views about the crucial relationship between water and land. More…

Khettaras: A traditional water supply for modern Morocco?
Khettaras are an ancient but sophisticated water management system which can still play an important role for today’s water supply. More…

CGIAR: New research programme on water, land and ecosystems
Water scarcity, land degradation and ecosystem services are at the centre of a new research programme that is to bring about a radical transformation in the way land, water and natural systems are managed. More…


Sustainable land and water resources management – empowering dryland populations

UNICEF and the World Health Organization recently had some good news to share about water: The Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been met. This is a major achievement. Between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells.

Water is one of the Earth’s most vital resources. It is needed for human consumption, health and hygiene, and for agriculture, industry, energy production and development in general. However, safeguarding a sustainable water supply for all the world’s people will become a greater challenge in the decades to come because water is a finite resource.

Many areas of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, are already suffering from water scarcity. UN-Water estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, while two-thirds of the global population could be experiencing water stress. Water scarcity is the defining characteristic of the world’s drylands – home to approximately 38 per cent of the current global population of seven billion – limiting food production and hampering poverty eradication and sustainable development. The vulnerability and degradation of dryland ecosystems have very far-reaching impacts and therefore we must address the underlying issue of water scarcity.

There are many ways to manage this limited resource in a more sustainable manner. 70 per cent of all freshwater is used for irrigation in agriculture – a sector which offers plenty of scope for more efficient use of water resources. In order to meet the expected surge in food demand resulting from population growth and changing consumption patterns, the world will need to increase its agricultural production by 70 per cent by 2050, putting major pressure on declining water resources. If managed properly, however, agricultural land can retain water, increasing its quality and availability. If we protect the world’s ecosystems, we can also maintain an effective hydrological cycle. That’s why I am calling for greater water efficiency through sustainable land management.

This issue of UNCCD News shows that a holistic approach which links sustainable management of water resources and land is essential. It includes an interview with international water expert Dr Mohamed Ait Kadi on the benefits of this approach from both a physical and an economic perspective, and looks at how water has traditionally been supplied in the drylands of Dr Ait Kadi’s home country, Morocco. We also showcase a new research project from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which addresses water scarcity, land degradation and ecosystem services.

With the practical solutions and commitments put forward at the recent World Water Forum – one of the key events in the international water calendar – and water and food security issues featuring on the agenda of World Water Day in March, the international community is heading to the right direction in its preparations for the Rio+20 Summit in June. At the Summit, I will reiterate our call to build a land-degradation neutral world – for the benefit of our land and soil and our water resources, but most importantly, for the countless people who rely on water and healthy soils as a basis for a sustainable livelihood.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary


A truly integrated approach to water and land

Water security – like food security – has moved to the top of the sustainable development policy agenda at all levels over recent years. In 2010, the United Nations defined the right to water as a basic human right, underlining the importance of access to water, both for individual well-being, but also for economic and social development in general. Severe water scarcity can have far-reaching consequences such as poverty, hunger and underdevelopment. In a worst-case scenario, it becomes a matter of life and death, as the recent droughts in East Africa have shown. Water resources management and governance therefore have a crucial role in safeguarding water supplies. However, they won’t be successful in the long run unless combined with a sustainable approach to land management.

Healthy soils are fertile soils: even in desert-like conditions, all that is needed is water, and plants will start to grow. So adequate water is essential to sustain life, grow crops and raise livestock. However, “adequate” is a somewhat elastic term in this respect. Water scarcity is the defining characteristic of the world’s drylands, but over the centuries, communities have adapted to this arid environment. They grow crops which need little water and have developed techniques to boost productivity and retain as much precipitation as possible, such as water harvesting and the construction of underground water tunnels (see story about khettaras, a traditional water supply system in Morocco, in this issue).

Water: more than a physical phenomenon

Today, sustainable land and water management practices make it possible to produce around four tonnes of wheat grain per hectare in the dry and semi-arid areas of Central West Asia and North Africa with as little as 300-400 mm of seasonal rainfall. With less efficient land and water management practices – such as a lack of suitable seed, appropriate farming inputs and expertise – yields are much smaller, typically amounting to less than two tonnes of grain. As this example shows, water supply is not only a physical phenomenon. It also encompasses economic, governance and training issues. For example, the management, transportation and storage of water require investment, labour and energy inputs – all involving economic costs.

Water supply is not only a physical phenomenon.

There is an interesting correlation between water availability and economic development, exemplified by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth compared to the difference of precipitation from mean. A 2006 study by the World Bank examined this correlation for Ethiopia and found that the curves for GDP and the amount of precipitation mirrored each other. If precipitation decreases in Ethiopia, GDP follows suit.

Source: Water for Growth and Development (2006)

These findings are worrying because water scarcity is expected to increase in the coming decades. If less precipitation has the same effect elsewhere, declining economic prosperity will threaten many other areas of the world. According to the 2030 Water Resource Group, in 2030, one-third of the population, concentrated in developing countries, will live in basins where the deficit between water requirements and accessible, reliable supply is larger than 50 per cent. Climate change will make many places hotter and drier and will change spatial and seasonal rainfall patterns, leading to more extreme weather events and droughts. The global drylands, which are already faced with water scarcity, are particularly vulnerable to this development. In Yemen, for example, groundwater tables are falling at rates of over a metre per year, according to the Global Water Partnership.

By 2030, one-third of the world population will live in basins where the deficit between water requirements and supply is larger than 50 per cent.

A dual relationship: water scarcity and land degradation

The relationship between desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) and water scarcity is twofold. DLDD is a result of poor and unsustainable land utilisation. But water scarcity also triggers desertification processes.

Impacts of desertification on water

Desertification negatively impacts the water cycle

  • • Drying up of freshwater resources, falling water tables
  • • Decline of groundwater recharge and run-off
  • • Water degradation (e.g. through pollutants)
  • • Salinity, siltation
  • • Increased threat of floods due to inadequate drainage and poor irrigation practices
  • • Soils lose their water retention capacities
  • • Greater dependency on irrigated cropping -> growing demand for freshwater

Impacts of water scarcity on desertification

Water scarcity triggers and exacerbates the effects of desertification

  • • Decline in soil nutrients
  • • Loss of vegetation cover
  • • Siltation
  • • Salinisation
  • • Alkalisation

Integrated Water Resources Management

So how can this precious resource be safeguarded for the future? Over recent decades, there has been an increasing focus on Integrated Water Resources Management (I). However, its application purely at the national level has not been successful, and attention has been shifting towards a river basin approach in which policy-makers and engineers contribute their input to IWRM policy in line with regional and local conditions. As the end-users whose livelihoods depend on water, local stakeholders should have ownership of IWRM, based on the “3E” principles of economic efficiency, social equity and environmental sustainability.

Understanding IWRM mainly as a means to manage the water supply would be short-sighted, however. Managing demand is just as important, because future water shortage scenarios will make it necessary to meet the rising demand from a growing world population.

For a fully integrated approach, however, IWRM must also be linked up with the sustainable management of land. This is reflected in the Global Water Partnership’s widely accepted definition of IWRM: It is “a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.” The recently published United Nations World Water Development Report says that it will “be necessary to look beyond what is traditionally considered water management and link it with decisions made in other linked domains such as land management, agriculture, mining and energy.”

IWRM must be linked up with the sustainable management of land.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2012:

“It is fundamental therefore to promote soil, water and vegetation conservation and to enhance measures that rehabilitate, conserve and protect the natural environment. Sustainable land management is one of the few options for sustaining livelihoods and generating income without destroying the quality of the land and the water resources which are the basis of production.”

Sustainable land management provides various options for reducing agricultural water demand. For example, if farmers leave the residue of the previous season’s crops on their fields – a practice called no-tillage – they increase water infiltration and reduce evaporation and wind and water erosion.

Poor land management practices such as over-cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation have a negative effect on the fragile relationship between water and soils. The United Nations Environment Management Group recently pointed out that on poorly managed land, “the share of water that is available to plants can be as low as 40-50 per cent of rainfall. On severely degraded land, as little as 5 per cent of total rainfall may be used productively.” The consequence is a greater dependency on irrigation, thus further stimulating preventable water demand.

On severely degraded land, as little as 5 per cent of total rainfall may be used productively.

Policy implementation and governance

According to the Global Water Partnership, there are already promising signs of an increased willingness to search for solutions on a multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary basis. It mentions the European Water Framework Directive as an example of good IWRM practice, because it “represents a strong example of IWRM in action and provides a unique process of river basin planning of all waters in the European Union including non-EU countries sharing the river basins.”

There are promising signs of an increased willingness to search for solutions on a multi-sectoral, inter-
disciplinary basis.

The Water Integrity Network adopts a more critical approach. In its contribution to “Solutions for Water” at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France, in March 2012, it says that the current water crisis was “not a crisis of scarcity but a crisis of mismanagement, with strong governance features.” In many countries, water governance is still in a state of confusion, with fragmented institutional structures, unclear roles and responsibilities, poor financial management, low implementation capacity at local level, and weak accountability and transparency.

At the very least, more policies, regulations, financial and human resources and capacity development are needed to develop and implement sustainable IWRM. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is therefore demanding countries’ full engagement for guaranteeing food and water for all: “It will require policies that promote water rights for all, stronger regulatory capacity and gender equality,” he says. “Investments in water infrastructure, rural development and water resource management will be essential.” The United Nations Water Virtual Learning Centre points out that water management mechanisms at the international level are still “in their infancy and are undergoing evolution.”

But things are moving in the right direction. At the 6th World Water Forum, new international water agreements were initiated, including an agreement on groundwater in the Arab region. Other regions showcased their efforts to create international structures for the sharing of information and experience. One example is the Latin American Water Funds Partnership, which is planning a 27 million USD investment in 32 funds for watershed conservation in the region.

Towards an integrated approach

As none of these efforts puts the emphasis on the close relationship between water and land, more action is needed to integrated water and land management. A major step towards this goal would be the establishment of a “Water Compact for Drylands”, as proposed in the fourth edition of the United Nation World Water Development Report (page 621, volume 2). Such mechanism could strengthen an integrated approach to water scarcity in drylands and to water and land issues related to desertification, land degradation and drought. It could generate the support that is so urgently needed for more sustainable management of Earth’s precious resources.

A major step forward would be the establishment of a “Water Compact for Drylands”.

Integrating water and land management is a complex task which creates numerous practical challenges. “If we consider the following principles in our approach to an integrated land and water management, we will be on track towards sustainable rural development and food security for a growing population,” says Sergio Zelaya, UNCCD Coordinator of Policy Advocacy on Global Issues. “Let’s share examples of good practices and build capacities in the world’s drylands. We have to work together with agriculture to adapt the principle of ‘more crop per drop’ as indicated by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development at its 17th session. Ultimately, participation is the key to successful implementation. As there is no blueprint available, solutions need to be tailored to the specific contexts on the ground.”

The stakes are high, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out at World Water Day 2012: These “challenges are increasing competition between communities and countries for scarce water resources, aggravating old security dilemmas, creating new ones and hampering the achievement of the fundamental human rights to food, water and sanitation. With nearly 1 billion people hungry and some 800 million still lacking a safe supply of freshwater, there is much we must do to strengthen the foundations of local, national, and global stability.”


Land for water – water for land

Dr Mohamed Ait Kadi is a key water policy player both in Morocco and internationally. He chairs the Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership and is a founder of the World Water Forum, the first of which was hosted in Marrakech, Morocco, in 1997, with Dr Ait Kadi presiding over the organising committee.

In Morocco, Dr Ait Kadi is President of the General Council of Agricultural Development and a professor in the Department of Equipment and Hydraulics at the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Sciences in Rabat. He served as Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries and was also chief agricultural negotiator for the Morocco-United States Free Trade Agreement. Recently, he spoke with UNCCD News editor Dr Susanne Reiff to share his views about the crucial role of water for land.

Dr Ait Kadi, you are a renowned water expert. What is your approach to land issues such as degradation and desertification?

Land and water are interconnected. Perhaps that is obvious, but ignoring it has far-reaching consequences for our ecosystems. They can only provide proper ecosystem services if their interaction functions well. Theirs is a very sensitive physical relationship. For example, water depends on soils’ absorption capacities to maintain the hydrological cycle. If rain falls on degraded land, it will run off quickly, because the barren ground cannot soak it up. The consequences are severe: groundwater aquifers are not recharged and erosion occurs, worsening land degradation.

Water has great vitality. It cannot be reproduced by artificial means. The only way to produce water is through sustainable land management and by combating desertification and land degradation. Mountains and grazing areas can produce water, too. Good agricultural practices also have an important role to play; they can contribute by saving water, controlling run-off, recharging groundwater and limiting evaporation.

The only way to produce water is through sustainable land management and by combating desertification and land degradation.

Water scarcity will considerably increase during the next decades. Which effects do you foresee, especially in the world’s drylands?

The continuously growing thirst for water and hunger for land are at the heart of all global environmental risks, including climate change and the risks to biodiversity and the hydrological cycle. They also play a part in the economic risks which became very obvious during the recent food shortages and price volatility of agricultural products. Ultimately, they lead to social and political risks. Immigration, conflict and state failure are often triggered by water scarcity and a lack of access to productive land.

Over the past few years, a range of factors – population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change – have turned these potential physical, economic and social risks into real threats. The scarcer resources become, the more we are faced with fundamental trade-offs, particularly between water consumption for expanded food production and the need for water to maintain ecosystems and soil fertility. That’s why I believe that sustainability must be at the heart of our environmental policies.

How can land and water management be improved to become truly interlinked and sustainable?

If land and water are interlinked, then logically, the same must apply to land and water management. Here, our commitment should be translated into action in four areas:

  • 1. We must rethink our understanding of development and create a vision of sustainable development that should now be based on a fully integrated concept.

  • 2. Protecting water and land resources requires us to create an enabling environment. In other words, appropriate policies, institutions and regulations. It includes putting into place new fiscal mechanisms that are based on incentives to foster the efficient use of water resources, with disincentives for negative behaviour. Governments not only have a stewardship responsibility, which is obviously important. They also have to bring the private sector and civil society to the table and work with them to identify solutions. This is essential, because water and land-related problems are becoming so complex that it is not possible for one stakeholder to solve them individually. Transnational solutions are increasingly required. River basin management is a good example, as rivers often cross national borders. Partnerships and cooperation at local, national, regional and global level are vital.

Governments not only have a stewardship responsibility. They also have to bring the private sector and civil society to the table.

  • 3. We have to strengthen institutions and build capacities. The links between science and decision-making processes are still too weak. Scientists must be consulted to a far greater extent, in order to provide a sound basis for policy decisions.

  • 4. We should also develop capacities for monitoring the state of the world’s natural resources and how policies are affecting them. Looking more closely at how the world’s water resources and land are changing as well as learning lessons from the past will help us cope more effectively with the challenges of land degradation and water scarcity at all levels.

What is your strategy for a green economy?

In a world faced with finite resources, an economic paradigm which holds that the most appropriate reaction to increased demand is to boost supply is outdated. Innovation is the watchword for a sustainable future and a green economy. It will allow us to increase water productivity and safeguard natural resources and ecosystem services. There are many innovative water management success stories already out there. China, for example, is engaged in a major revitalisation programme in order to reverse degradation. The costs involved are immense, but this type of programme is often the only way out of the vicious circle of mismanagement and low productivity, transforming it into a virtuous spiral of progress and prosperity.

What are the key components of water security and therefore also of food security?

It would be short-sighted to define water security as meaning nothing more than abundant water availability. In my view, the following four elements are key:

  • • First, the resource base, including water, land and biodiversity, must be managed properly.
  • • Second, water security requires social security systems to be in place, so that poor people have a secure income and do not contribute to further degradation by over-exploiting the natural resources due to a lack of economic alternatives.
  • • Third, international trade has a crucial role to play, mostly as a buffer against shocks.
  • • In agriculture, water is often neglected in negotiations about investment, pricing and trade policies – but these are critical determinants of water demand.

Can you give us some examples of good practice in an integrated land and water resource management policy?

We see many countries struggling to implement integrated water resource management systems. But there are also many encouraging examples all over the world – some in dryland areas, others in major cities. New York City is an example of good practice. It is one of the best-known models of payment for ecosystem services. The city funds the conservation of the catchments from which it receives its freshwater supplies. This commitment is not only more environmentally friendly; it is also much cheaper than building and operating a water filtration plant.

There are many encouraging examples all over the world – some in dryland areas, others in major cities.

An example from Brazil shows that water is a key aspect to consider, although factors such as population growth might undermine good intentions: When the capital Brasília was planned in the 1950s, the surrounding area was designed to provide a reliable water supply for the city. It was a very sound and innovative approach. However, today, around 3.5 million people live in the metropolitan area compared to the 500,000 originally planned. Needless to say, this well-designed water strategy did not work in the long run.

But let me also turn to my home country, Morocco, 90 per cent of which is located in arid zones. No question, we are a drought-prone and chronically water-stressed country. But our government started to adapt to this environmental situation back in the 1960s and introduced integrated water resources management. As a result, we not only have state-of-the-art technologies; we have also appropriate policies and regulations in place. In 1995, I was involved in adopting a new water law. We have created an institutional framework, with river basin agencies and regional bodies involving all stakeholders, in order to develop long-term water strategies. Morocco is very conscious of the fact that water offers plenty of scope for innovative international cooperation and solidarity.


Khettaras: A traditional water supply for modern Morocco?

Once in a while, the vast landscape of Morocco’s deserts and steppes is broken by lush green oases. They are the region’s lifelines, which provided caravans with much-needed respite and served as nomads’ trading posts for centuries. Here, in the shade of the date palms, farmers grow fruit, vegetables and cereals. Water is supplied to the oases in various ways – none of them natural. One of these techniques is known as “khettara”, an ancient but sophisticated water management system.

In a khettara system, water moves along almost horizontal underground tunnels from the slopes of the mountains to villages and fields further down on the plains. The tunnels can be up to 15 km long, with vertical shafts approximately every 10 metres. These shafts harvest condensed water, produced during the cold and humid nights after hot days, and also provide access to the tunnels for maintenance. The great advantage of having the water flow underground is that it does not evaporate; at surface level, this would be unavoidable in Morocco’s arid and semi-arid climate.

Over the centuries, the khettara system has provided people all over the world with water. Elsewhere, it is also known as “qanat”, “foggara” or “keriz”. It was invented either in ancient Persia or south-east Arabia thousands of years ago and made its way eastward to India and China and westward to North Africa, Europe and even Mexico and Peru. The first khettaras in Morocco were built in the Haouz Plain around Marrakech in the early 12th century.

Whereas the Iranian qanats convey water from springs or underground pools, the khettara tunnels in Morocco rarely go as deep as groundwater resources, according to the Hydria Project, which explores the wealth of Mediterranean water heritage and links this ancient wisdom to modern needs. Instead, khettaras collect water from microflows in the sand and regular rainfall, with the subsoil acting like a rocky sponge, draining off the upper part. At the end of the tunnel, the water is either stored in a reservoir or is directly conducted to the fields, where palm trees create a microclimate suitable for crop production.

Since the 1970s, khettaras have often been replaced by diesel-pumped wells, but these tend to over-exploit groundwater aquifers and lead to reduced groundwater levels. The drop in groundwater levels in Morocco is alarming. By 2007, the water tables of the Souss basin had decreased by 40 metres, while the levels of the Saïss basin had fallen by a total of 60 metres. During recent drought periods, the country experienced serious rainfall deficits, sometimes exceeding 60 per cent.

The survival of oases is threatened by desertification and climate change. “Around ten oases in southern Morocco have lost more than 40 per cent of their vegetation and sand-drift has covered 208 hectares of agricultural land in the Errachidia region,” according to the Moroccan Government. A serious rural exodus would hasten the abandonment of these productive ecosystems.

The survival of oases is threatened by desertification and climate change.


Morocco is home to the world’s largest oases:

  • • 1.733 million inhabitants (5 per cent of the Moroccan population)
  • • Area: 115,563 km2

In the course of 10 years:

  • • 20 per cent regression of the lands suitable for cereal cultivation
  • • 34 per cent decrease in date production

Source: Kingdom of Morocco, Resilient Drylands and Oases Committed Territories

In Morocco’s Tafilalet region, there are around 570 khettaras, only 250 of which were still operational at the end of the 20th century. This decline is caused by recurring droughts as well as economic difficulties, says Keiko Oshima, who has conducted extensive research on khettaras and water user organisations. She also points out that to improve this critical situation, khettara water users have started to establish non-governmental organisations to rehabilitate the abandoned khettara systems. But they face many problems – not only environmental. Some are caused by human behaviour, such as the pollution of irrigated land with washing detergents and a shortage of labour due to the continuing rural-urban exodus.

Many other traditional water management systems for drylands have suffered a similar fate. According to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), “despite being effective and cost-efficient, [they] are either in decline or have been completely abandoned.”

Over the centuries, khettaras have played a vital role as a sustainable water management system. However, today, their management has to be adapted to the social and environmental realities of the 21st century. The dedication and commitment of local people, an appropriate regulatory environment and international support in the form of institutional and technical capacity building and, ultimately, a physical environment that enables the khettaras to operate effectively will be needed if this tradition is to survive and flourish. Otherwise, the khettaras will fade into history.

The management of khettaras has to be adapted to the social and environmental realities of the 21st century.


CGIAR launches major research programme on water, land and ecosystems

The issues of water scarcity, land degradation and ecosystem services are at the centre of a new research programme launched by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in London on 27 March 2012. The CGIAR Research Programme on Water, Land and Ecosystems is a ten-year commitment to bring about a radical transformation in the way land, water and natural systems are managed. It will also make substantial contributions in the areas of food security, poverty alleviation and, to some extent, health and nutrition.

CGIAR’s new programme aims to boost food production and improve livelihoods while simultaneously protecting the environment. It therefore attempts to solve a fundamental dilemma: how agricultural production can be intensified while also safeguarding natural systems. “While we still have acute crises of hunger, ecosystem degradation and water scarcity in many areas, we have many of the solutions already at hand,” says research programme director Dr Simon Cook. “This programme will focus on capitalising on these opportunities, minimising risks and helping the world’s poorest farmers maintain and improve their livelihoods and the ecosystem services that sustain them and others.” Drawing from a major lesson CGIAR learned in the past, it combines a scientific with a governance approach: “Working at the level of farm and plot provided the technology needed to quickly expand food production, but failed to focus on larger-scale, longer-term implications. Looking forward, we must not only reverse the degradation and reduce the excessive use of scarce resources through the development of new technical interventions; we must also put in place the right institutions to ensure that new research contributions generate sustainable gains in resource productivity and livelihoods.”

How can agricultural production be intensified while also safeguarding natural systems?


The research programme addresses five main themes:

Irrigation: Researchers will explore new strategies for increasing its use in Africa, whereas the focus in South Asia will be on improving efficiency through integrated governance and technical approaches.

Rainfed agricultural systems which account for 90 per cent of African agriculture can benefit from the use of supplementary irrigation plus improved supply chains, markets and finance. The researchers will aim to find out how this can be achieved, as there is massive scope for improvement in African rainfed agriculture to meet future demand for food from a rapidly expanding population.

River basins management research will look at how agricultural production can be intensified without harmful offsite impacts on the environment and downstream water users.

Resource reuse and recovery: Understanding how we can turn wastewater and sewage into valuable resources for farm use, whilst the cash generated can be ploughed back into sanitation.

Information research will explore how new technologies like cell phones can get information to poor farmers about soil and water and how to bring together natural resource data from CGIAR and its partners and deliver it in innovative ways to those who need it.

CGIAR’s plans to promote irrigation in Africa could cause consternation in some quarters, given the high level of freshwater utilisation in irrigation. However, CGIAR’s approach aims to take into account both negative and positive off-farm effects of developing irrigation. “Through research, we can learn much more about minimising the negative impacts and enhancing ecosystem services, while increasing food production and enlarging the social benefits made possible by investments in irrigation,” according to CGIAR.

The programme’s research findings are likely to be crucial for the UNCCD as well. Emmanuel Chinyamakobvu, Programme Officer, Policy Advocacy on Global Issues, at the UNCCD Secretariat, says: “The CGIAR research initiative could not have come at a better time, given that the UNCCD Secretariat – in close collaboration with WMO and a number of other UN entities – is in the process of putting in place measures to support countries towards developing their national drought and water scarcity management policies (NDMPs). The aim is to enhance the adaptation capacities of vulnerable communities, because, in the foreseeable future, climate change is likely to shift the patterns of droughts and possibly increase the frequency and severity of extreme events, thus exacerbating the risk of human and economic losses. In the process of developing these NDMPs, it is imperative to identify the existing knowledge on the various types of drought management measures available and being utilised. This is where the CGIAR research findings are expected to dovetail into the development processes of the national drought and water scarcity management policies.”

“The CGIAR research initiative could not have come at a better time.” Emmanuel Chinyamakobvu, UNCCD Secretariat

The new research programme is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to promote more joined-up thinking on agricultural research for development at CGIAR. One such approach, the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, has been running since 2002. Its cross-disciplinary paradigm has provided insights into what needs to be done to ensure food security whilst maintaining the environmental systems on which farmers rely. One of the lessons learned from this work is that more effective, equitable and environmentally sensitive pricing of natural assets like water needs to be mainstreamed. On a larger scale, the project has drawn attention to the complete fragmentation of river basin management. Different sectors, such as agriculture, industry, environment and mining, are considered separately rather than as interrelated and interdependent.

“We can no longer continue to address food security, water scarcity and environmental degradation as separate entities. This new approach, which envisages unprecedented levels of collaboration between the various international research centres of CGIAR, aims to deliver innovative research that can have real impact on how we manage natural resources and ensure food security,” says Dr Colin Chartres, Director General of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the new research programme’s lead agency and recently named this year’s Stockholm Water Prize Laureate. The research team is clear that major new sources of finance will be required to fulfil the planned scope of the programme. That will mean attracting not only bilateral donors but private sector money as well. The programme expects to receive initial funding of around 75 million USD per year.

“We can no longer continue to address food security, water scarcity and environmental degradation as separate entities.” Dr Colin Chartres, IWMI

Video about the CGIAR research programme



UNCCD Policy Brief
A Sustainable Development Goal for Rio+20: Zero Net Land Degradation

The policy brief provides a snapshot of the state of the world’s land, explains causes and impacts of land degradation and desertification, details the need for a sustainable development goal on land-use and makes recommendations for its implementation.
Download executive summary in PDF (6 pages)
Download overview in PDF (2 pages)


Ripples on Water
“Ripples” is a modern dance production that illustrates the myriad emotions of water. It renders its power, grace, and beauty in a visually stunning treatise that allows the viewers to reflect on their complex relationship with water and its importance to the human condition. In a carefully crafted performance the dancers of nATANDA reveal the moving emotions of water.
Watch the performance on Youtube

Kenya: water scarcity
In Kenya, the International Atomic Energy Agency is helping farmers make the most of limited water resources. Innovative irrigation and nuclear techniques enable communities to grow stronger crops while protecting the environment.
The full story on UN Webcast


Statistics on water
UN-Water has created a portal to view maps, tables, and charts on indicators, at either country or global level, as well as additional geographic information. This portal is easy to operate and puts additional details one click away.
UN-Water database

UNRIC, UNEP and OHCHR: “Drop by Drop” Competition
The purpose is to create a print advertisement that inspires others to preserve water, now and for future generations. The top 30 ads will be displayed on the competition website, exhibited worldwide and placed in European print media. The European ad competition is part of The Future We Want, the UN’s global campaign leading up to the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.
United Nations European Ad Competition on Water


About the UNCCD

Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument that has brought attention to the land degradation affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world. The UNCCD has 195 Parties (194 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three “Rio Conventions”, along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCCD is increasingly recognised as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

For more information: Awareness Raising, Communication and Education Unit, UNCCD
Tel: + 49 228 815 2800   Fax: + 49 228 815 2898   secretariat@unccd.int

Contact UNCCD News at newsbox@unccd.int


UNCCD News is published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Editor: Susanne Reiff, to the point communication (Email)
Design: Rebus, Paris (Email)
Copyright ©2012 UNCCD (Email)

Photo credits: Contents: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine; IFAD/Qilai Shen; Moreno Novello/Fotolia.com; UN Photo/WFP/Phil Behan; Policy: 2x IFAD/Qilai Shen; UN Photo/Milton Grant; IFAD/Jeremy Hartley; IFAD/Sahar Nimeh; IFAD/Susan Beccio; IFAD/ Lana Slezic; Interview: Global Water Partnership; UN Photo/Kibae Park; IFAD/Alberto Conti; KfW-Bildarchiv/Fotoagentur: photothek.net; IFAD/G.M.B. Akash; IFAD/Alberto Conti; Thiago Carrapathoso/Flickr.com; Inmigrante a media jornada/Flickr.com; Practice: Bernard Gagnon/wikimedia commons; amada 44/wikimedia commons; Bernard Gagnon/wikimedia commons; Moi meme Tafilalet Maroc/wikimedia commons; Science: IFAD/Alberto Conti; IFAD/Jeremy Hartley; UN Photo/Martine Perret; IFAD/Radhika Chalasani; UN Photo/WFP/Phil Behan; Browsing: Gert Vrey/Fotolia.com.