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The Sahelian Drought And United Nations Convention To Combat Desertification

Desertification first captured major international attention in the 1970s when a decade of severe drought in the Sahel region of Africa brought starvation to the impoverished populations of countries along the southern border of the Sahara Desert. Sparse stabilizing vegetation died, and the Saharan sands encroached, covering depleted agricultural land. Reduced water volume in rivers compromised irrigation and hydroelectric generation. Dust storms brought health problems and ruined equipment and buildings. Livestock died of starvation. More than 100,000 sub-Saharan Africans died of thirst and starvation between 1972 and 1984, and more than 750,000 people in Mali, Mauritania, and Niger were completely dependent on international food aid during 1974.

The United Nations convened the Conference on Desertification (UNOCD) in 1977 in Nairobi, Kenya in response to the Sahelian Crisis. The conference brought together 500 delegates from 94 countries. The delegates approved 28 recommendations for slowing or reversing desertification, with the hope of stabilizing the area of land degraded by desertification, and preventing further crises. Scientists advising the 1977 convention estimated that desertification threatened 11.6 million mi2 (30 million km2), or 19% of the earth's land surface, in 150 nations worldwide. Despite the action undertaken in the years following the UNOCD, and numerous examples of "local successes," the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded in 1991 that the threats and effects of desertification had worsened worldwide. The 1994 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was proposed at the 1992 the United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD)in Rio de Janeiro. By March 2002, 179 nations had agreed to the UNCCD treaty which advocates a program of locallyimplemented efforts to reverse and/or prevent the desertification that directly affects 250 million people, and threatens at least one billion.

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