World Environment Day: Focus on desertification and drought


World Environment Day: Focus on desertification and drought

Dr. Iyad Abu Moghli, director and founder of the UN’s Faith for Earth Coalition, speaks to Vatican News about desertification, drought resilience, and the impact of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si.

Land restoration, halting desertification and building drought resilience are the main themes of this World Environment Day 2024, which is being hosted by Saudi Arabia.

The World Day, established in 1972 and celebrated every year on June 5, is a the United Nations’ primary environmental initiative.

The effects of desertification and environmental degradation

According to the UN, up to 40 per cent of the planet’s land is degraded. The duration of droughts has increased, and studies claim that this may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.

Dr. Iyad Abu Moghli, founder and director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Faith for Earth Initiative, gave an interview to Vatican News.

Dr. Abu Moghli explained that the primary causes of land degradation are “human activities”, that disrupt the natural balance of ecosystems.

“Desertification involves the clearing of forest for agriculture and urbanization. This leads to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and disruption of local climate. Overgrazing is another example – it strips not only vegetation but also affects the soil and exacerbates erosion”.

The Director of Faith for Earth said that improper agricultural practices, such as monoculture farming, without proper soil conservation measures, deplete the soil and increase vulnerability to erosion.

“Urbanization and building of new cities, new urban areas and of course industrial activities often result in soil contamination and habitat loss”.

Boys play in a dried up dam in Khawlan, Yemen

Targeted interventions

Dr Iyad is fully convinced that land restoration can reverse the trend of land degradation.  He explained that only through targeted intervention can degraded land be rehabilitated and restored to its natural productivity and ecological function.

dried out trees in a forest

“Reforestation involves planting trees and restoring forest ecosystems to combat desertification and erosion. This will also provide a habitat for wildlife and mitigating climate change. Soil conservation practices, such as terracing, contour ploughing, and cover cropping improve soil fertility and retain moisture”.

Therefore, he said, enhancing agricultural productivity and resilience to drought can lead to restoring land.

And finally, he spoke about water conservation methods such as rainwater harvesting, which, he said, “can help degraded land by replenishing groundwater and supporting vegetation cover”.

The relevance of Pope Francis’ Laudato sì

Dr. Abu Moghli described how Pope Francis’ voice carries significant weight in the global dialogue on environmental protection. In his Encyclical Laudato Sì, the Pope points out that our mistreated and plundered earth calls for an “ecological conversion”, a “change of course”, so that people take responsibility for a commitment to “care for the common home”.

“Certanly the encyclical by Pope Francis has been an inspiration for engagement not only among faith leaders and believers, but also in the international community. Laudato Sì resonates beyond religious boundaries – the ethical dimension that is included in it makes a great difference” concluded Abu Moghli.

By Jessica Jeyamaridas

Published on the Vatican News website