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Desertification affects about one-sixth of the world"s population, 70 percent of all drylands and one-quarter of the total land area in the world. The most obvious impact of desertification, in addition to widespread poverty, is the degradation of 3.3 billion hectares of the total area of rangeland; decline in soil fertility and soil structure; and the degradation of irrigated cropland (Agenda 21, paragraph 12.2).

While the idea of a convention to combat desertification was discussed during the UNCED preparatory process, it was only in Rio where language was adopted requesting the General Assembly to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee for the purpose of negotiating a convention. The General Assembly, during its 47th session in 1992, adopted resolution 47/188 calling for the establishment of the INCD, and the convening of five sessions in order to finalize the Convention by June 1994.

The organizational session of the INCD was held in January 1993. At that meeting, delegates elected Bo Kjell‚n (Sweden) Chair of the Committee, elected the remaining members of the Bureau, adopted the rules of procedure, set the schedule of meetings and established two working groups.