Over One-Fifth of Central Asia’s Land Degraded, New UN Data Warns

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At the opening of its first-ever meeting held in Central Asia, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) unveils new data showing land degradation rapidly advancing in the region and around the world.

Between 2015 and 2019, the world lost at least 100 million hectares of healthy and productive land each year. This adds up to 420 million hectares, or 4.2 million square kilometres, slightly over the combined area of five Central Asian nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These statistics underscore the need for urgent action, as escalating land degradation continues to destabilize markets, communities, and ecosystems around the globe.

According to the latest UN data, over 20 per cent of the total land area in Central Asia is degraded, equivalent to roughly 80 million hectares, an area almost four times the size of Kyrgyzstan. This affects an estimated 30 per cent of the region’s combined population.

The UNCCD Data Dashboard launch comes at a critical juncture as world leaders and experts are gathering in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from 13-17 November 2023 for the 21st session of the UNCCD Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 21). For the first time, an open Data Dashboard compiles national reporting figures from 126 countries, allowing users to explore the trends in their own regions and countries.

UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said: “The first-ever UNCCD Data Dashboard offers an eye-opening insight into rapid loss of healthy and productive land around the world, with dire consequences for billions of people. At the same time, we are seeing some ‘brightspots’—countries effectively tackling desertification, land degradation and drought. As we gather in Uzbekistan this week to review global progress towards ending land loss, the message is clear: land degradation demands immediate attention.”

Land restoration ‘brightspots’

Despite a bleak global picture, there are examples of countries effectively tackling desertification, land degradation and drought.

While Uzbekistan reported the highest proportion of degraded land in the Central Asia region, it also saw the largest decrease – from 30 per cent to 26 per cent – compared to 2015. A total of 3 million hectares of land in Uzbekistan have been degraded due to the drying of the Aral Sea. Between 2018-2022, Uzbekistan carried out saxaul planting on an area of 1.6 million ha to eliminate salt and dust emissions from the drained bottom of the Aral Sea.

Kazakhstan increased irrigated lands by 40 per cent, expanding the total irrigated area to 2 million hectares. In Kyrgyzstan, some 120,000 hectares of pastures and forests are now under sustainable land management, including a pasture rotation system. Turkmenistan committed to restoring 160,000 hectares under its national ‘greening the desert’ initiative by 2025.

Land Degradation Neutrality goal still within reach

Although land degradation varies by region, UNCCD data warns that if current trends persist a staggering 1.5 billion hectares of land will need to be restored globally by 2030 to reach targets enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Barron Orr, UNCCD Chief Scientist, said: “Although global trends are going in the wrong direction, it is still possible to not only meet but exceed land degradation neutrality goals. This can be done by stopping further degradation while accelerating efforts on existing commitments to restore one billion hectares of land by 2030 with funding and action hand-in-hand.”

Around the world, approximately USD$ 5 billion in bilateral and multilateral funding flowed into global efforts to combat desertification, land degradation and drought between 2016 and 2019. This helped 124 nations roll out a wide range of projects aimed at addressing these challenges.

All Central Asian nations have joined the LDN target-setting programme under UNCCD, bringing the total number of participating countries to 131. Half of the LDN targets set by countries in Central Asia have already been achieved, with projects to deliver on the rest of the commitments currently underway.

Source : Unccd