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Desertification and Drought Day

Published: 22nd Jun, 2020

Desertification and Drought Day – until this year known as The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought – is observed every year on June 17 to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification.


Desertification and Drought Day – until this year known as The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought – is observed every year on June 17 to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification.


  • Desertification and drought are issues of a global dimension. They affect almost all regions of the world.
  • Dryland ecosystems, which cover over one third of the world‘s land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use.
  • Desertification is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations, and affects the world's poorest.
  • Desertification and Drought Day is observed every year to promote public awareness.  The day is a unique moment to remind everyone that land degradation neutrality (LDN) is achievable.
  • The commemoration of the day is led by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.


What is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought?

  • United Nations General Assembly acknowledged June 17 as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.
  • The day was officially declared by the UN General Assembly in the year December 1994 as “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought".
  • On October 14, 1994, India signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Desertification (UNCCD). After which this day started to be celebrated from the year 1995 to combat desertification.
  • The objectives of Desertification and Drought Day as per Un General Assembly comprises of following points-
    • To promote public awareness of the issue
    • To let people know that desertification and drought can be effectively tackled, that solutions are possible, and that key tools to this aim lay in strengthened community participation and cooperation at all levels.
    • To strengthen implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa. 

This year’s celebrations

  • In order to celebrate the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought 2020, the main aim is to observe and create awareness of this day. 
  • World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought 2020 Theme is "Food. Feed. Fibre"; which speaks the links between consumption and land. 
  • This year’s observance is focused on changing public attitudes to the prominent driver of desertification and land degradation. As these issues are humanity’s unyielding production and consumption.

What is Desertification?

  • In 1994, the UN established the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD) as the “sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management”.
  • The Convention itself was a response to a call at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to hold negotiations for an international legal agreement on desertification.
    • India is signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD). The country is committed to combat desertification and land degradation and intends to achieve land degradation neutral status by 2030.
    • MoEF&CC is the nodal Ministry for the implementation of the UNCCD.
    • The status of India’s desertification and land degradation is an important contribution to India’s report to the UNCCD.
  • The UNCCD set out a definition of desertification in a treaty adoptedby parties in 1994. It states that desertification means

“land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities”.


  • Arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas are known collectively as “drylands”.
  • Technically, they are defined by the UNCCD as “areas other than polar and sub-polar regions, in which the ratio of annual precipitation to potential evapotranspiration falls within the range from 0.05 to 0.65”.
  • Desertificationoccurs on all continents except Antarctica and affects the livelihoods of millions of people, including a large proportion of the poor in drylands. 
  • Desertification takes place worldwide in drylands, and its effects are experienced locally, nationally, regionally, and globally.

Mapping the desertified land

  • The world loses 24 billion tons of fertile land every year. Notably, 29.3 percent of land in India is affected by erosion. 
  • In India, about 30 percent of the land has been turned into a desert. Notably, 82 percent of this is in the eight states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana.
  • land degradation alone cost India over 2 percent of its gross domestic product.
  • The United Nations estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in water crisis conditions.
  • As a result of desertification, displacement is likely to increase and by 2045, more than 130 million people may have to leave their homes.

What leads to Desertification?

  • Land degradation is mainly driven by both by changes in climate or human activities. There are numerous ways in which the land can degrade.
  • The direct causes of desertification can be broadly divided between those relating to how the land is – or isn’t – managed and those relating to the climate.
    • The former includes factors such as deforestation, overgrazing of livestock, over-cultivation of crops and inappropriate irrigation.
    • The latter includes natural fluctuations in climate and global warming as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Then there are underlying causes as well including “economic, demographic, technological, institutional and cultural drivers”.

Impact of land degradation

  • Loss of soil fertility: A loss of soil fertility is another form of degradation. This can be through a loss of nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or a decline in the amount of organic matter in the soil. Soils can also suffer from salinisation – an increase in salt content – and acidification from overuse of fertilisers.
  • Erosion: One of the main processes is erosion – the gradual breaking down and removal of rock and soil. This is typically through some force of nature – such as wind, rain and/or waves – but can be exacerbated by activities including ploughing, grazing or deforestation.
  • Impacting vegetation, soil quality & water table: It can also lead to a loss or shift in vegetation type and cover, the compaction and hardening of the soil, an increase in wildfires, and a declining water table through excessive extraction of groundwater.
  • Destructing the ecosystems: Desertification not only ensures the existing expansion of desert systems around the world, rather it destructs the vital dryland ecosystems, including those of deserts, drylands, and scrublands. 
  • Economic loss: The poor quality of land could lead to a decline in national GDP by up to eight percent every year.
  • Leading to climate crisis: Land erosion and its adverse effects further deepen the climate crisis looming over humanity.


Desertification or land degradation is not new to the world. In an age governed by steep population growth, industrialisation and the global rise in temperatures, one of nature's precious bounties, land, is threatened severely. The resource, considered to be the ever-nourishing mother-figure in many cultures, is gradually ripped off its fertility across the globe. June 17 comes as a reminder to practice land degradation neutrality and influence policy changes to have a sustainable future.


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