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CAUSES, GENERAL EXTENT AND PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCES OF LAND DEGRADATION IN ARID, SEMI-ARID AND DRY SUB-HUMID AREAS

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): Wim G. Sombroek, Director of FAO's Land and Water Development Division, gave a historical background of the term "desertification," identifying bio-climatic aridity based on evaporation and evapo-transpiration, as well as length of growing periods. He then identified arid, hyper-arid, semi-arid and humid areas, and cited the components of land degradation that encompass the degradation of human settlements and infrastructure. He spoke about a study carried out by FAO, the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (GLASOD), which was aimed at generating factual information on the severity of land degradation. He described two types of degradation: degraded land that can be rehabilitated through the reduction of resource use, and destruction that is barely recoverable and can only be redeemed through structural changes.

El Hadji M. Sene of the Forest Resource Division then addressed rangeland degradation and cited its main causes. He emphasized that rehabilitation of such lands requires sound ecological and integrated management of natural resources, supported by adapted technology, economic planning, legal and financial measures, as well as improved institutions. He also underlined the role of the people's participation in these programmes. He elaborated on initiatives that FAO is undertaking in the rehabilitation of degraded woodlands. He concluded that combatting desertification requires a holistic approach that includes agriculture, efficient use of land and its natural resources, political will, regional and international conventions, appropriate legislation, and proper education. In the discussion, the delegates raised the following issues: land tenure systems; land rights; disappearing species; the role of bush-fires in rangeland degradation; effects of towns, factories and industrial growth in land degradation; and the importance of local communities in the planning for micro-activities.

HABITAT: Jochen Eigen, Coordinator of the Sustainable Cities Programme, and Graham Alabaster, Human Settlements Officer, spoke on land degradation resulting from urbanization, industrialization, mining and tourism. The focus of this presentation was on the need to accommodate population growth through sustainable urbanization and reduce environmental degradation. He pointed out that urbanization accommodates population growth; environmental degradation can limit the benefits of urbanization; land degradation is one environmental concern associated with urbanization; and strengthening urban management capacity helps combat desertification. Attempts to manage population growth and migration have not been effective and HABITAT is now focussing on urban management. He also pointed out the cross-cutting nature of urban environmental issues; the need for any urban management strategies to involve those whose interests are affected, including women; and the need to involve and strengthen the public, private and community sectors. He explained how HABITAT's Sustainable Cities programme can be put to use to combat desertification.

In the discussion that followed, Egypt mentioned the need to utilize open space to accommodate human settlements without competing with agricultural land. He mentioned the development of new settlements for retired people in the US state of Arizona. Senegal mentioned the need to address the impact of rural development. Benin stated that the effect of spontaneous population growth on land degradation and urbanization has been overlooked.

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