World Day to Combat Desertification 2013

Jun 17, 2013

Besmellah – heh – Rahman – ur – Rahim,

Salaam va Sobhe beh kheyr.


Mr. Mohammadizadeh, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,

Mr. Owrangi, Deputy Minister of Jihad Agriculture, and Head of the Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Organisation,

Members of the project communities present today,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


I am delighted to have been invited here today by Mr. Owrangi to share thoughts with you on the challenges we face because of drought and water scarcity. 

In sharing my thoughts, I will try to reiterate our understanding of what the evidence says about the global drought problem.  I will then outline what the evidence says we should be doing more of.  Finally I will describe what we actually are doing to halt and reverse the problem.

In this way, I hope – with your support – to raise more awareness about the risks of drought and water scarcity – especially in drylands.  My intention is to keep the focus of our leaders – both in Iran and the international community – squarely on this crucial human security challenge of the future.  This is the purpose of dedicating today to combatting desertification.

Ladies and Gentlemen, simply put, drought devastates people’s lives.  I personally believe that it is one of the main human security challenges of the future.

This year’s commemorative slogan is: don’t let our future dry up.  It calls for everyone to collaborate, to take responsibility – and to act – to counter water scarcity, desertification and drought.  This places a great responsibility upon each and every one of us. 

Healthy soil – conserving arid lands

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change specifically states that the world has become more drought-prone during the past 25 years.  The Rio-plus-20 meeting in Brazil last year, as well as the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, both tell us that we must keep our soil healthy in order to reduce the risk of drought and sustain our livelihoods.

In Brazil, world leaders said we should “achieve a land-degradation-neutral world”.  In plain language, this means we should avoid land degradation of new areas.  It also means if we cannot avoid some degradation, we must at the same time offset this by restoring an equal amount of land – preferably in the same ecosystem and landscape.  

This morning – on the slope of a hill overlooking Malard district – I heard Mr. Owrangi say that under the

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Iran has a number of duties and obligations.  Indeed, Iran is taking its responsibilities very seriously.  Central to the UNCCD is the idea that for societies to become resilient in the face of desertification, community members and households must be involved in proposes seek to change their lives.  This is what we are seeing.

The challenge which Iran face

As we all know, Iran is a country situated in an arid and semi-arid zone.  Here, we are particularly vulnerable to water scarcity.  The drought-related facts and figures are troubling.  In Iran, we face three overlapping problems related to desertification.

1.  The first is reduced rainfall.  Our analysis of long-term meteorological data shows that the annual precipitation rate has declined in many parts of the country.  Where the decline is highest is in the northern “Caspian” region, the northwest and west.  In addition, the pattern of precipitation has also changed.  Studies show that the number of days with rainfall higher than 10 mm, have also reduced in the west, northwest and southeast of the country.  Rainfall changes projected for the 30-year period 2010-2039 show that there will be 10 per cent less rainfall than the 30-year period 1976-2005.

2.  The second is that temperatures will continue to rise. The projections for 2010-2039 compared with the 1976-2005 period all forecast that we will continue see increases in temperature.  This will increase the rate of evaporation.

3.  The third is that these two factors will result in reduced agriculture.  The land’s carrying capacity will decline.  Crop yields will fall.  Overall food production will decline.

What can we do?

The solutions are clear and are being discussed and acted upon.  What is certainly required is to restore – across the planet – millions and millions of hectares of degraded lands.  This can only happen if governments, international organizations, businesses, communities and environmental conservation groups come together and work out a solid agenda for action and change.

Mr Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, urges us in his statement for this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification to do this: “let us shift from managing crises to preparing for droughts and building resilience by fully implementing the outcomes of the High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy held in Geneva last March”. 

The way to do this is to improve our water management strategies.  This will occur if we increase planning methods which are watershed-based.  This will occur if we use science and knowledge.  Most importantly, this will occur if we ensure that those who are to benefit from our plans, are involved in developing them.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United Nations is working earnestly with our counterparts to provide solutions.

In this context, I would like to commend the Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Organisation for their vigorous response to this problem.  Clearly, FRWO is trying to be part of the overall solution.  

I am pleased to say that both FAO and UNDP have been supporting FRWO in the process to combat desertification.  My colleague, the FAO Representative, Mr. Noureddin Mona, will share views on FAO’s work.  In my role as UNDP Resident representative, I am pleased to say that we are working with the Government to give greater visibility to many of the best practices which already exist here in Iran.  They have worked historically.  They are preventative.  And they are being increasingly promoted by the international community.

For example, UNDP has four ongoing joint projects which combat desertification.  All are underpinned by participatory and community-based processes.  The fact that people and communities can cost-effectively rehabilitate their lands and improve their water usage is now well understood – and being applied – through our projects.

Carbon Sequestration: This morning we reviewed – together – the Carbon Sequestration project’s newly-started replication work in Malard district.  I was pleased to see the District Governor and the Leader of Friday Prayers present.  As were many from the community.  This project impresses me.  It provides money to those who plant the trees.  The trees and shrubs can be grazed in a controlled way, providing a sustainable livelihood to farmers.  The trees help keep the soil stable.  The plan in this location – one of 10 envisaged under the project – is to cover 70,000 hectares.  This will add to the 15,000 hectares we have planted in Khorassan-e-Janubi province.

The Menarid project: In this project we are introducing for the very first time in Iran, a mechanism for testing and implementing a tax and subsidy scheme which is directly related to the use of natural resources.

The Land and Water project:  This project will, among other things, set up Iran’s first planning model based on a watershed system – the Hable Rud water basin.

The Caspian project: This project will try to help protect the Alborz Mountain range.

Finally, the UN in Iran has also recently started to explore solutions to the problem of dust and sand storms – especially those coming from our western neighbors of Iran.  We have taken the matter seriously and are following up with other UN agencies and neighboring countries to find a resolution.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I move to conclude, I would like to say – again – that we must be responsible and we must act.  The real question is why does it take us so long to recognize a problem and take action?  The simple answer may be that we are ignorant of the costs of inaction – and the benefits of action.  We must change this.

Our joint projects provide some of the solutions.  They introduce tools and instruments to ensure better planning and institutional mechanisms.  But we need to operate at a larger scale.  And we need to move faster.

In the words of this year’s message, “Let’s not let our future dry up.”  

In my country there is a saying, “when all is said and done, more is said than done”.  Therefore let us do.

Kheyli Moteshakeram.

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