WHAT do you think of when you hear the word ''desertification''? Sand dunes slowly encroaching on beautiful farmland ? The Sahara and Gobi taking over Africa and Asia? Rivers and streams drying up?  That's certainly a part of it.

But the key impact of desertification is the degradation of land - to the point where the soil becomes so damaged that it no longer supports life.

Soil is much more than dirt. And healthy soil is essential to a healthy planet. The ground beneath our feet is teeming with a hidden world of plants, animals and microbes - many culture and food industries. It helps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and keep plants, animals and humans strong.

But today, more than one-fifth of the planet's land - including more than half of our agricultural land - is suffering.

Each year, more than 1 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, land degradation and drought. This loss hurts over three billion people, particularly poor and rural communities in the developing world.

At the same time, when land is hastily converted to cropland, without considering the overall health of our environment, then carbon and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. Climate change accelerates biodiversity withers and infectious diseases blossom.

This all jeopardises water supplies, livelihoods and our ability to face natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Unless we act now, it's only going to get worse. Over the next 25 years, land degradation could reduce global food productivity by as much as 12%, leading to a  30% increase in world food prices. We will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we remain complacent.

But there is much to be hopeful about - and much that we can achieve together. As we have seen with the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, when the will is there and resources are deployed, humankind can achieve truly astounding feats.

Restoring 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 could take between 13 and 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. For every dollar spent on land restoration - including enough low-skilled and labour intensive projects - at least $9 of economic benefits can be expected.

Restoring land not only generates green job opportunities across a wide range of industries - but will also enable us to grow more nutritious food, provide clean water security, address biodiversity loss, and mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The Publishing of this Essay continues to Part 2. The World Students Society Society thanks author Volkan Bozkir, President of the United Nations General Assembly.


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