Last updated: 17 Jun 2022

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Desertification and droughts, caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations, are affecting people in all regions of the world. Desertification and Drought Day is the occasion to remind ourselves of the need for action to avoid negatives consequences of these phenomenon for humanity and the planetary ecosystems. While the main global instrument to address desertification, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), are located in Bonn, Geneva also plays a role in the global efforts to combat desertification and drought with many organizations working actively on these issues.


Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Two years later, the General Assembly established the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), a legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management, and declared 17 June “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought” (A/RES/49/115). This day, also known as “Desertification and Drought Day”, is observed every year to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification.


Desertification is defined as land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, mostly climatic variations and human activities (UNCCD, 1994). Although the term can include the encroachment of sand dunes on land, it does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs, however, because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one-third of the world’s land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use.


Meteorologically, drought is defined as a prolonged absence or marked deficiency of precipitation that can be characterized as a period of abnormally dry weather with a sufficiently prolonged lack of precipitation as to cause a serious hydrological imbalance (WMO, 1992). Other definitions include impacts like hydrological imbalances that adversely affect land resource productions systems (UNCCD, 1994; Article 1). Put into other words, drought is a climatic phenomenon that can occur almost anywhere in the world when there is a significant decrease in water availability (atmospheric, surface, soil, or groundwater) over a period of weeks to years. Climate change is increasing the frequencies and/or magnitudes of droughts in many regions of the world (IPCC, 2021).

2022 Theme: Rising up from drought together

Droughts are highlighted among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries, but increasingly so in developed nations too. Forecasts estimate that by 2050 droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and according to WMO, the number and duration of droughts have increased by 29% since 2000, as compared to the two previous decades. When more than 2.3 billion people already face water stress, this is a serious concern. The theme for 2022 emphasizes the need for early action to avoid disastrous consequences for humanity and the planetary ecosystems.

“Recent droughts point at a precarious future for the world. Food and water shortages as well as wildfires caused by the severe drought have all intensified in recent years.

—Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD Executive Secretary

The Role of Geneva

Various international organizations in Geneva – listed below in alphabetical order – are engaged in combating desertification and droughts.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office in Geneva

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that leads international efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, and for the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources. The FAO Action Against Desertification programme assists local communities, government and civil society to restore drylands and to manage fragile ecosystems in a sustainable way. The FAO Liaison Office in Geneva is engaged in coordinated efforts related to climate change adaptation and natural resources management, among other topics, supporting member states to develop measures in the agriculture sectors in line with the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement. The office also collaborated with other Geneva-based organizations to provide contributions and technical work in this area.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s largest conservation network with the mission to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and ecosystems. As a partner to the UNCCD since 2011, IUCN supports progress towards policies and programmes that deliver Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) through the application of nature-based solutions (NbS) as the preferred option for LDN achievement.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the objective of the IPCC is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. IPCC reports are also a key input into international climate change negotiations. The IPCC is an organization of governments that are members of the United Nations or WMO.

Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR)

PEDRR is a global alliance of UN agencies, NGOs and specialist institutes seeking to promote and scale-up implementation of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and ensure it is mainstreamed in development planning at global, national and local levels. Among other activities, PEDRR is advocating for an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework, notably through the promotion of Nature-based Solutions.

Ramsar Convention Secretariat

The Ramsar Convention aims to ensure the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution toward achieving sustainable development throughout the world. Wetlands play a key role in regulating climate and storing fresh water, thus are natural solutions to combating desertification and droughts.


UN-Water coordinates the efforts of United Nations entities and international organizations working on freshwater and sanitation matters. It provides the platform to address the cross-cutting nature of water and maximize system-wide coordinated action and coherence.

United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD)

The UN-REDD Programme is a collaborative initiative from the FAO, UNDP and UNEP. The programme supports nationally led REDD+ processes and promotes the informed and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders in national and international REDD+ implementation. By protecting forests, REDD+ mechanisms can not only maintain vital ecosystem services and preserve globally significant biodiversity but also sustain livelihood and mitigate climate change.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations and the system’s authoritative voice on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources.


This year’s global observance of Desertification and Drought Day will take place in Madrid, Spain. Spain, the host of Desertification and Drought Day 2022, is vulnerable to drought, water shortages and connected climate change impacts. Local and online events are also held in various regions of the world. All around the globe, UNCDD is leading the Droughtland Campaign, encouraging individuals to take steps to prevent their home to become plagued by drought.



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