What do you think of when you hear the words ''desertification''? Sandunes slowly encroaching on beautiful farmland? The Sahara and Gobi taking over Africa and Asia. Rivers and Streams drying up? That's certainly part of it.

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

Soil is so 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 too tiny to see.

So, what can you do to help protect our land and soil? One simple step is not to waste food - because when farmers work the land to produce food we're not eating, that just exhausts our soil unnecessarily.

And if you're an urbanite, you can work with your local officials to make your city greener - through such innovative methods as rooftop gardens and vertical forests.

Here at the United Nations, promoting land regeneration is a critical part of our work. In the coming months, major conferences to follow up on the three Rio Conventions - the UN Convention to Combat Desertification [UNCCD], UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [ UNFCCC] and Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD] will be held during the same year for the first time ever.

This is a unique opportunity to reflect on the health of our planet - and on what we can do to improve and protect our very existence.

For my part, I will host a high-level meeting on desertification, land degradation and drought, in the iconic United Nation General Assembly Hall in New York.

This meeting - the first of its kind in more than a decade - will build on previous achievements, highlighting gaps in our collective efforts and spur momentum towards the big three Rio related conferences.

It will remind us that land degradation is real and needs to be fought. It will show how three seemingly different issues - climate, biodiversity and desertification - are actually intrinsically linked. And it would drive up ambitions for global action.

The General Assembly is the only body where all 193 member states of the United Nations sit as equals. So, there is no better place to tackle the problems that transcend borders and affect us all.

When it comes to the very earth we stand on - the life giving soil that sustains us - there is no time to waste.

High-level conferences may not improve the situation overnight. But in making sure we're all on the same page, sharing best practices and taking real steps together, we can change course.

Ultimately, we will reverse desertification, land degradation and drought because there is no other choice. But we will need to work together. We will need to change some of our practices. And I hope the United Nations can count on your support.

The World Students Society thanks Volkan Bozkir, president of the United Nations General Assembly.


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