Sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea and University of Calabria, Ecology Department
“Desertification is the degradation of the land in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid dry areas caused by climatic changes and human activities” (UN CCD, 1994).
Desertification is one of the major present environmental challenges.
It is accompanied by a reduction in the natural potential of the land and a depletion in surface and ground-water resources.
But above all it has negative repercussions on the living conditions and the economic development of the people affected by it.
Desertification not only occurs in natural deserts, but can also take place on land which is prone to desertification processes. In the developing countries, poverty and desertification are strictly connected.
Desertification poses a threat also for the arable lands in the developed countries, where the effects due to the climate changes and the intensive exploitation of the soils have caused biological and economic productivity losses.
Desertification should not be confused with the expansion of the existing deserts in the hyper-arid areas of the planet.
Desertification can evolve or regress as a result of the adoption of mitigation policies and interventions that impact its causes and effects.
The know-how of the present environmental, social and economic problems is the prologue to adopt better strategies to reduce the impacts and remove the causes.
The deterioration of the land in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid dry areas is caused by some environmental characteristics and natural phenomena, but also caused by the exploitation of natural resources.
Desertification is a threat for the arid, semi-arid and sub-humid dry regions in all the continents.
Aridity is a natural climatic characteristic that involves 47% of the lands of the planet, caused by rain scarcity and high temperatures.
These factors cause environmental limitations characterized by scarcity of vegetation, poor substance soils and limited water resources.
Desertification is a threat for about 1 billion inhabitants of the over 100 countries at risk and a quarter of the lands of the planet.
The situation is definitely dramatic in Africa, where 73% of the arid cultivated lands are affected by degradation and desertification, but there are also large deteriorated or threatened lands in Asia, in Latin America and in the North Mediterranean.
Large deteriorated lands have been found also in the developed countries, like the United States and Russia, generally because of climatic factors and fragile eco-systems.
Place and Date of adoption: Paris, June 17th 1994
Entry into force: December 26th 1997
Ratified by Italy: June 4th 1997
Signatory States: 191 Countries
Objectives of the Convention
The main objective is to define the principles, strategies and commitments that the Parties shall respect to combat the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.
CCD shall achieve this objective through “long-term integrated strategies that focus simultaneously, in affected areas, on improved productivity of land, and the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources, leading to improved living conditions, in particular at the community level” (Article 2).
Instruments to achieve them
NATIONAL ACTION PLANS (NCP): the Parties should ensure that decisions on the design and implementation of programmes to combat desertification and/or mitigate the effects of drought are taken with the participation of populations and local communities and that an enabling environment is created at higher levels to facilitate action at national and local levels.
REGIONAL AND SUB-REGIONAL ACTION PLANS: the Parties should, in a spirit of international solidarity and partnership, improve cooperation and coordination at sub-regional, regional and international levels, and better focus financial, human, organizational and technical resources where they are needed.
In defining the subjects directly involved into the commitments stated by the Convention, it will be distinguish between:
- AFFECTED COUNTRY PARTIES, that will have to give absolute priority for combating desertification though the implementation of a specific National Action Plan.
- DEVELOPED COUNTRY PARTIES , to which the Convention imposes specific obligations of aid towards the countries affected through concrete financial and scientific support.
THE PARTY CONFERENCE: it is the highest body of the Convention joined by all the signatory Countries and regional organizations for economic integration (like the European Union). It has a bimonthly meeting to examine the CCD implementation process.
The PC uses Auxiliary Organs to prepare their decisions:
THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY is made of experts in the matter from all the Country Parties, it provides the PC with information and advise in the scientific and technologic field through the most advanced multi-subject expertise.
THE COMMITTEE FOR THE REVIEW OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE CONVENTION
It gathers every year and transmits the PC specific advice to achieve the objectives of the Convention.
THE SECRETARIAT is the organizational instrument of the Convention and it operates through the services needed to the sessions of the PC and its Auxiliary Organs.
THE WORLD MECHANISM (WM) is the organ that provides the PC and the single Countries with advice about financial acquisition, identifying potential cooperation plans and assisting the Parties in the research for innovative methods to achieve the objectives.
Italy, together with other countries of the North Mediterranean, share an environmental crisis whose effects make the land vulnerable to several deterioration processes.
The International Community, since 1994, has taken interest in the phenomenon “desertification” that, being not very known, rose interest for its consistence, that lies in the complex interaction among physical and biological factors, social and cultural factors, political and economic factors. In order to implement and/or combat the effects, it is necessary to know the process and become aware that desertification is in progressive expansion, especially in the areas of fragile eco-systems. In order to mitigate the dramatic consequences caused by desertification and to cure the critical environmental issues, it is fundamental to stop the mechanism of exploitation and operate a cultural revolution: sensitization and responsibility through more precise soil monitoring and management techniques. Within the project DISMED it has been revealed that about 30% of the Italian soil presents characteristics at risk of desertification.
The causes of the desertification process are determined by both human activities and natural factors.
As far as Italy is concerned, the climatic characteristics, relatively similar in all the Mediterranean Basin, along with the morphology of its soil and its employment, are more and more the cause of deterioration processes of chemical, physical and biological qualities of the soil. As far as climatic changes, aridity phenomena, that is rain shortage and strong transpiration, subtract humidity to the soils and vegetation.
Drought, that is instead a phenomenon that affects also non-arid soils when the rain falls are far lower than the registered levels, impacts the deterioration of the soil causing damages to farming and zoo-technical activities.
Natural eco-systems generally can resist to drought periods, whereas production sectors, that depend on a constant water intake, can be damaged.
Drought in the arid areas, where the employment of the water resources is always close to the sustainability threshold, can break the delicate balance between the environmental resources and production activities, causing food crisis, abandonment of the areas, emigration and even conflicts.
The rain erosion occurs when short but heavy rain falls affect soils without vegetation coverage and the impact of the rain drops disgregates the soil, favouring the washout of the upper layer richer in organic matter.
The main human causes of desertification are linked to the social and economic activities and their impacts: agriculture, zoo-technique, water resource management, forest fires, industry, urbanization, tourism, drills, extractive activities.
These activities determine a competitive use of the natural resources (soil, water and vegetation/bio-diversity) with the consequent over-exploitation. In Italy, the over-exploitation of the water resources is compromising the richness of the underground waters.
Near the coasts, the sea waters can be back-flown provoking the salinisation of the layer. Fires determine negative effects on the composition and the structure of plants and animals and the physical and chemical properties of the soil, making it less water-resistant and therefore more exposed to erosive processes. From an agricultural point of view, the deterioration processes result from an incorrect management of the production means, of the surfaces and the changes to the production regulation: the use of mechanical means causes the constipation and compactness of the soil and the chemical and physical fertility of the plowed terrain soil; more and more consistent activity of intensive breeding causes phenomena of environmental pollution due to the excessive load in limited areas.
The process of urbanization has an impact on desertification in terms of subtraction of fertile soils to agriculture, with the consequent reduction of the productive capacities, as well as drills and extractive activities.
The existing natural factors, such as the morphology and orography, add up to the natural and human causes, contributing to the deterioration processes: the slope reduces the absorption of the soil, the strong sun exposition in the southern areas determine microclimatic conditions unfavourable to the regeneration of the natural vegetation.
Also the typology of the vegetable coverage, characterized by species with the tendency to the loss of humidity through evaporation, makes the Italian soil very sensitive to the desertification processes. In a country where the risk of a progressive loss of fertility still seems non-existing, it is difficult to imagine such consequences.
Italy has ratified the Convention under a double role: although it is one of the Developed Country Parties, it is also considered as an Affected Country Party, so directly affected by drought and desertification.
Locally, the efforts to combat desertification have been intensified thanks to the implementation of the National Action Plan, Sub-regional and Regional, aimed at the reduction of the productivity losses of the soils, caused by the climatic changes and human activities. For that, in July 1999 the National Committee for the Fight of Drought and Desertification elaborated the Guidelines of the National Action for the fight of drought and desertification, approved on December 21st 1999 with the Deliberation CIPE 299/99.
Such Plan highlights four sectors for priority action:
- soil preservation, particularly;
- sustainable water resources management, particularly;
- reduction of the impact of the productive activities, particularly;
- re-balance the soil.
The National Committee for the fight of drought and desertification is developing an intense activity aimed at involving local organizations, institutions and research into a political action to combat drought and desertification and the deterioration of the soil and the social, economic, energetic, environmental and cultural aspects of the Mediterranean area.
Under the proposal of the National Committee to combat drought and desertification, a National Programme for information, training and research to combat drought and desertification has been established.
The National Actions identify the following principles:
- development of public-information programs by government offices;
- promotion of information campaigns by public and private enterprises and associations through accords with government offices;
- analysis and evaluation of strategies to prevent and combat drought and desertification;
- study of the causes and processes of desertification and the evolution of the phenomenon in Italy;
- evaluation of the environmental, social and economic implications and consequences of drought and desertification;
- the preparation of an integrated program of measures of prevention and mitigation involving both rural and urban areas which integrate the use of traditional knowledge and that of new technologies, based on an
inventory of the above and on a land informational outline of the region;
- a framework consistent with the overall objectives of the national economic policy;
- the use of local community resources;
- specific training, education and information activities;
- measures of an agricultural, forestry, civil and social nature that must involve inter-sectoral action and the greatest possible number of public and private participants
- coordination of the activities with the Countries of Annex IV.
DESERTNET presented as a project by InterregIIIB Medocc, Asse 4 “Environment, enhancement of the heritage and development”, Measure 4.4 “Water resources management and fight against drought and desertification”, aimed at:
- contributing to the development of a cartography based on common indicators among the Italian regions involved in the project;
- implementing a work package on the regional territory developing analysis methodologies as common heritage for the other regions.
CLEMDES (Clearing House Mechanism on Desertification for the Mediterranean Basin) is a project aimed at the creation of a network to promote and favour the technical and scientific cooperation among the Group of countries in Annex IV of UNCCD (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Israel) in the first place, and then with the other countries affected by desertification in the Mediterranean Basin.
DISMED (Desertification Information System For The Mediterranean) is aimed at improving the capacity of the National Administration of the Mediterranean countries to program measures and policies to combat desertification and the effects of drought.
CLIMAGRI, in February 2001 a three-year research project, named CLIMAGRI, was started and financed by the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies con M. D.M. 494 and 504/7303/2000. it is aimed at the know-how of the consequences, in the agricultural sector, of the climatic changes in Italy; it is also aimed at study the interconnections between agriculture and the climatic changes.
SEDEMED The project SEDEMED - "Sècheresse et Dèsertification Mèditerranèe" - dans le bassin, within the Communitarian Priject INTERREG III B MEDOCC, aims at the implementation of an integrated system for monitoring and forecasting drought events and desertification processes, as well as for defining the appropriate mitigation measures of the impacts produced by such events.
DESERTLINKS, (Combating Desertification In Mediterranean Europe Linking Science With Stakeholders), such research project is financed by the EU and it refers to the environmental deterioration processes and desertification in the countries of the Mediterranean Basin. The research activities started in December 2001 and concluded in November 2004.
RIADE: (Integrated Research for the Application of Technologies and innovative processes for the fight of Desertification)
ENEA, the Desertification Research Centre of Sassari University, the Advanced Computer System ACS S.p.A., realized the RIADE Project co-financed by MIUR between 2003 and 2006.
The objective of the project is to develop an integrated system to monitor the desertification processes in Basilicata.
DESERWATCH, the European Space Agency (ESA) has promoted the development of a monitoring and assessment system of desertification that uses tele-detection systems. The four European countries on the Mediterranean, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Turkey, join the project. The project applies assessment models and systems already available evaluating the reliability in some critical areas in cooperation with the National Committees.
DESURVEY, 5-year research project financed by the European Union, made of 39 scientific institutions from 17 European and non-European countries, aimed at creating a monitoring and assessment system of desertification. The project is also joined by research groups of ENEA, INEA and NRD of Sassari