"Humans must remain at the centre of the fight against desertification"

Article, 11.06.2014

On 17 June 2014, the SDC will co-organise a public conference in Geneva to mark World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The speakers will address the role of ecosystems in this context. Yves Guinand, programme officer within the Food Security Section of the SDC, will present Switzerland's position at the event.

How can intervention in the ecosystem contribute to rehabilitating land that has been turned into desert? To raise awareness on this question, the SDC and the NGO Initiatives of Change International are organising a conference on the fight against desertification which will be open to the public and is scheduled to take place in Geneva on 17 June 2014.

Five speakers, from the United Nations, NGOs and the University of Bern, and the head of the SDC programme, Yves Guinand, will take part in the discussion. Their presentations will be introduced with the screening of a short film on Ethiopia produced by the World Bank and will be followed by a discussion. The event takes place as part of World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

How can strengthening ecosystems help the fight against desertification?
Yves Guinand:
In the world's arid and semi-arid regions, where desertification threatens most, ecosystems are extremely vulnerable. The slightest imbalance between rainwater, cultivation of land and use of pasture land can cause desertification. Heavy rain and mudslides, for example, can transform a road carved into a valley into a devastating torrent. Strengthening ecosystems consists for example of raising awareness among local populations and politicians of this fragility.

How does this strengthening of ecosystems work on the ground?
Any given area of land usually consists of non-degraded land and other parts that have been degraded to a greater or lesser extent or even completely destroyed. Strengthening the ecosystem can aim both to conserve the healthy part of this space and rehabilitate the degraded part. The destruction and desertification of an area of land happens very quickly, while its rehabilitation takes much longer and is costly. Even though conserving a piece of land costs less than rehabilitating it, donors currently prefer rehabilitation because the results are more visible and this gives them more success stories to tell.

Does the SDC include strengthening ecosystems in its strategy?
The management of natural resources and, in particular, the sustainable management of land is an important part of the SDC's work. It cross-cuts several key themes of its activities, such as water, food security, climate change and migration flows. However, it is not an aim in itself for Switzerland, which gears its activities to humanity and the eradication of poverty. "Humans must remain at the centre of the fight against desertification" It is on this point that I want to place the emphasis of my talk on 17 June. Switzerland's priority is to answer the following question: How can the conditions of human existence be improved between now and 2050? The fight against desertification through strengthening ecosystems is one of many of the answers to this challenge.

How does the SDC support the political dialogue at the global level on the role of ecosystems in the fight against desertification?
Switzerland is active and supports the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which it ratified in 1996. This convention provides the framework and defines the standards for managing arid ecosystems and development assistance. Switzerland is also involved in supporting global networks active in combating desertification. These networks are managed by civil society organisations such as DRYNET which brings together NGOs from throughout the world. The DRYNET network also directly participates in the implementation of the objectives of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. It enables local NGOs to share experiences and their success stories at the global level. Through such networks, their exchanges feed the political debate and pave the way to placing some programmes on ecosystem management on the national agenda. This of course ensures a lasting impact. The SDC is playing a pioneer role in this field: it believes in the long-term effectiveness of these networks.

Conference: Ökosystembasierter Ansatz bei der Anpassung an den Klimawandel