The recent drownings among illegal migrants off the Libyan coast are yet another tragic end to an ongoing story, one that starts on the land and, despite its complexity, has viable solutions. At the core of this problem is desertification and land degradation in the vulnerable drylands that surround the Sahara Desert, forcing millions from their homes.
Droughts have intensified in recent decades, meaning that already marginalized farmland is unable to sustain crops. And the deteriorating climate is not the only culprit. Poor land management practices exhaust the land to a point where it turns barren. The results are lack of food and loss of income. Increasingly, the sole choice for many, primarily young men, is the desperate attempt to migrate to Europe. The ones that survive the sea crossing in flimsy boats are washing up on the southern shores of the European Union, particularly the Canary Islands, Spain, Sicily and Malta.
International policy- and decision-makers increasingly recognize the link between environmental change and migration, and the grave implications for human security. The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) offers a framework for solid land policies, supported by governments in both the north and the south. The answers can frequently be found in the use of sustainable traditional practices and technologies. Developed countries can do more to implement measures that promote partnerships and investment in the drylands of affected countries. We at the UNCCD stand for a coordinated international effort that will create solutions on the ground and prevent this deadly flight across the water.
LUC GNACADJA, UNCCD executive secretary99999Bonn, Germany
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