Raising awareness about
the problem
Home - Previous chapter - Next chapter

2. Faced with desert encroachment, the international community has responded over the
last few decades by developing programmes to combat land degradation. International conferences
provide the forum to help in our understanding of environmental problems.

The role of the international community

The acceleration of land degradation in the drylands has mostly occurred from the middle of the 20th Century. The international community decided to respond to this by developing soil conservation programmes to:

International research programmes have been conducted to better understand the functioning of drylands. They have been supported by certain United Nations agencies (UNESCO, FAO, WMO, UNEP, etc.) and by regional intergovernmental organizations (CILSS, IGAD, SADC, UMA) or non-governmental organizations, NGOs.
The first determined effort to combat desertification began at the end of the great Sahelian drought and famine of 1968-1974 in which over 200,000 people and millions of their animals died. The United Nations Sudano-Sahelian office was set up in 1973 originally to assist 9 drought-prone countries in West Africa, though its activities spread to cover 22 countries south of the Sahara and north of the equator.
Over the decades international meetings have contributed to our knowledge of environmental problems and accords have been signed announcing concrete projects.
Certain important conferences have marked the end of the 20th Century.

The Stockholm Conference (Sweden) 1972
This was the first international conference that addressed environmental issues related to those concerns linked to the future of human populations. Among the principles outlined during the summit, the international community recognized that under-development and population growth are at the root of most of the environmental problems encountered today. Man has a particular responsibilty to safeguard and manage this natural heritage in the long term. The use of non-renewable natural resources, the challenges of biodiversity conservation and the control of pollution make it necessary to plan long term co-ordinated action.

The Nairobi Conference (Kenya) 1977
This first conference on desertification manifested a response by the international community to the terrible droughts of the Sahel and to the 1968-1974 famine threatening economical and ecological equilibrium. It contributed to the in-depth analysis of the problems of desertification. A Plan of Action to combat desertification, along with a series of recommendations aimed at helping affected countries to define and implement measures, was established to mobilize and coordinate assistance among the international community.

The Rio de Janeiro Summit (Brazil) 1992
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was marked by firm commitments from countries and the international community, which appear in Agenda 21, a plan of action assuring both the protection of the environment and the notion of sustainable development. Two international conventions emerged as a direct result of the Rio Conference: the Convention of Biological Diversity (1992) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1993). Developing nations insisted that desertification as an issue plays an equally important role during talks held during the Earth Summit, and in 1994 the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification was ready to be signed by governments. The three Conventions apply the principles of co-operation and international solidarity as they aim to find common solutions to environmental problems and socio-economic development.

C4M1 C4M1
3. Faced with desert encroachment, the international community has responded over the last few decades by developing programmes to combat land degradation. International conferences provide the forum to help in our understanding of environmental problems.
4.An oasis threatened by desert encroachment.
© FAO/18832/I. Balderi



In class, design a questionnaire on the subject of desertification and carry out a survey in your village to determine the extent of people’s knowledge on combating desertification?


Organize a class discussion.
Each pupil is allocated a unit (lesson) and will give a class presentation on the chosen subject.

The class could interact freely during the discussion on the possible solutions to combat desertification and drought.
It may help to read the case studies first.


Which agencies of the United Nations do you know?

Can you explain their role and purpose?

The class could divide up into small groups, each representing an agency of the United Nations developing a specific project.

Each group could then explain to the rest of the class how the project could be implemented, underlining its objectives!


Underline the following correct phrases:

• International projects exist to combat desertification.

• The desertification problem should be tackled exclusively by developing countries.

• Once countries have signed the Convention they are not expected to do anything else.

• A Great Drought struck the Sahel during the years 1968-1974.

• The international community meets regularly to define conventions on environmental protection.

• If countries do not establish Nation Action Plans to combat desertification then the Convention is not doing what it set out to achieve.

• The Rio Conerence of 1992 is also known as:
- the Earth Summit.
- the UNCED.
- the Convention of Biological Diversity.
- the UNCCD.

Home - Previous chapter - Next chapter