More than 20% of Central Asia’s land area is degraded, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) said on November 13, launching the UNCCD Data Dashboard at the opening of its first-ever meeting held in the region.
The area is equivalent to roughly 80mn hectares, or 800,000 square kilometres, an area almost four times the size of Kyrgyzstan. It affects an estimated 30% of the region’s combined population.
Land degradation is rapidly advancing in the region and around the world, according to the UNCCD. The Dashboard also showed that between 2015 and 2019, the world lost at least 100mn hectares of healthy and productive land each year. The totals add up to around 420mn hectares, or 4.2mn square kilometres, which happens to be slightly over the combined area of the five Central Asian nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Roughly 80% of land in Central Asia is used for pastoralism, with livestock grazing year-round. Today, up to 50% of the region’s rangelands need to be supplied with water. A lack of access to watering points reduces the mobility of herders, causing overgrazing of pastures near settlements and undergrazing of remote areas. Uneven grazing ultimately contributes to the formation of anthropogenic sources of SDS [sand and dust storms], which leads to further deterioration of soils and supresses vegetation -- UNCCD factsheet.
Speaking ahead of the Samarkand, Uzbekistan meeting—the 21st session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 21) to the UNCCD, taking place from November 13-17—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.”
While Uzbekistan reported the highest proportion of degraded land in the Central Asia region, the Dashboard showed it also saw the largest decrease—from 30% to 26%—compared to 2015. A total of 3mn 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 1.6mn hectares to eliminate salt and dust emissions from the drained bottom of the Aral Sea.
Kazakhstan increased irrigated lands by 40%, expanding the total irrigated area to 2mn 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.
More than 80% of about 400mn hectares of Central Asia is covered by deserts and steppes, which coupled with climate change and lasting droughts, represent a natural source of sand and dust storms (SDS). Unsustainable practices of irrigation farming and livestock grazing, mining and other land use change activities create conditions for the formation of human-induced SDS sources. Nearly 6.5mn people or 9% of the region’s population live in high-risk areas. The SDS-prone area in Central Asia equals 85mn hectares (medium and high risk) -- UNCCD factsheet.
Although land degradation varies by region, the warning seen in the UNCCD data is that if current trends persist a staggering 1.5bn hectares of land will need to be restored globally by 2030 to reach targets enshrined in the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the UNCCD said.
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 $5bn 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, UNCCD said.