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UNESCO Scientific
A World of Science


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p 2 - The shifting fortunes of global science

p 8 - Progress towards ocean targets too slow
p 8 - Water: a crisis of governance, says UN report
p 9 - A global plan to curb landslide losses
p 10 - The life sciences fête five women pioneers
p 10 - A tsunami warning system for the Caribbean
p 11 - New Cameroon centre joins fight against AIDS
p 12 - Great apes champion receives UNESCO medal
p 12 - UNESCO puts ethics within everyone's reach

p 12 - Would Einstein have approved?

p 15 - Ethiopia: a pot of blue gold at the end of the rainbow?
p 19 - The last frontier

p 24 - Diary
p 24 - New releases

A major security risk

Hama Arba Diallo doesn't hesitate to draw a parallel between desertification and human security. 'It is widely recognized', remarks the Executive-Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 'that environmental degradation has a role to play in considerations of national security, as well as international stability'.

Desertification is one of the most alarming processes of environmental degradation; it contributes to food insecurity, famine and poverty, and can give rise to social, economic and political tensions that can degenerate into conflict. Each year, desertification and drought cause an estimated US$42 billion in lost agricultural production. About 41% of the Earth's surface area is made up of drylands, home to more than 2 billion people. Between 10% and 20% of these drylands are degraded or unproductive.

The sheer scope of the problem led the UN General Assembly to proclaim 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. The Year's main objective is to drive the point home that desertification poses a major threat to humanity, a threat weighted further under the scenarios of climate change and biodiversity loss.

UNCCD is the only internationally recognized, legally binding instrument addressing the problem of land degradation in dryland rural areas. Through the Global Mechanism hosted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome (Italy), the Convention endeavours to channel much-needed resources to projects combating the problem, particu-larly in Africa.

On 17 February, FAO appealed for US$18.5 million to help farmers, herders and others hit by drought in southeastern Ethiopia and suffering 'pre-famine conditions'. With the economies of pastoralist groups in Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya also devastated, some 11 million people in the Horn of Africa 'are at risk of food shortages'. In this issue, we exam-ine plans by Ethiopia to improve food security and halt galloping desertification by develop-ing its water sector within an ambitious 15-year programme. This case study is taken from the latest World Water Development Report, launched by the United Nations in March.

UNESCO has a long tradition in interdisciplinary drylands research that goes back to the 1950s. Today, UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere and International Hydrological Programmes are pursuing research on the sustainable management of dryland ecosystems and their water resources. Many biosphere reserves situated in the world's drylands testify to the fact that environmental conservation and sustainable development of drylands can be mutually beneficial.

UNESCO is co-organizing a major conference from 19 to 21 June in Tunis (Tunisia) on The Future of Drylands. This scientific meeting will review the current state of knowledge of dryland ecosystems and the socio-economics of dryland development, with a view to advising decision-makers.


W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences





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