Ibrahim Thiaw: "There is no awareness that drought means fires, hunger and recession"

Since September 1, in Spain it has rained 25% less than usual. But in large areas, during the last six months, the lack of rainfall is at drought levels. However, after drawing attention in the driest weeks of February and March, the scarcity of water passed to a second, third or fourth level...

"There is not enough awareness," he says in a talk with elDiario. is the executive secretary of the United Nations Convention against Desertification and Drought, Ibrahim Thiaw. "Spain has been hit again this year by drought and there will be more. Many people do not understand that droughts have multiple names," he insists.

Thiaw (Mauritania, 1957) reveals some of its many faces: "It can be called forest fires, as occurs in the Mediterranean. It can be called famines. Or migration, because where there is drought and food cannot be produced, people leave. You call it a humanitarian disaster or an economic recession, and the Western world is not fully aware of it."

The head of the United Nations Organization has come to Madrid to participate in the events of the International Day against Desertification and Drought. Two phenomena associated and aggravated by the climate crisis. Since 2000 the number and duration of droughts have increased by 29%. Between 1970 and 2019, the lack of rain has accounted for 15% of the natural disasters recorded, but has cost 650,000 human lives. The highest price associated with extreme natural episodes.

And yet, in some parts of the world the use of water is that of an infinite resource, which it is not. "There is no finite resource in the world that should be used in this way," says Thiaw, who is also the UN's deputy secretary general.

And it offers some figures that are a perfect summary of inequality: "There are places where the general consumption is 600 liters per person per year. And in others it stays at 15 liters per person per year. When you use water in agriculture , which consumes 80% of fresh water, many times that amount of water is not necessary. The plant does not need it."

This expert in forest production maintains that "we are at a crossroads because while the demand on nature and its resources are increasing, those resources are decreasing. There is no longer a balance. In addition, droughts hit harder and more often. A year of drought It's a year of stress for ecosystems. A year of hunger in many places. A year of death for the most vulnerable."

The UN calculates that in 2022 some 2,300 million people suffer from water stress and that, since 1998, these droughts have caused losses worth 124,000 million dollars. The crossroads that Thiaw speaks of assumes that, without measures, in 2030 there will be 700 million displaced due to lack of water. And that by 2050 three-quarters of the world's population will be affected by drought.

The abnormal lack of rainfall and desertification are interrelated. The more times the lack of rain is repeated, the more severe and long the droughts, the more the land degradation and desertification caused by human activities accelerate.

"Drought can be severe, repeated and also combined with land degradation, which leads you into a downward spiral. Non-desertified areas suffer from droughts, like in Canada, and they have impacts on ecosystems and life forms. If they are repeated, these lands end up being degraded."

Spain hosts this summit because it is a State declared vulnerable to drought and desertification. Three quarters of the territory suffer from this risk because it is arid. Almost 70% suffers water stress, according to the World Atlas of Desertification.

Ibrahim Thiaw recalls the extensive battery of threats that the intense degradation of the territory entails. "First of all, the loss of food production and the loss of water quality," he details.

"The water that comes out when you turn on the tap doesn't come from the tap. It comes from an ecosystem somewhere. If you degrade that ecosystem, the water that comes from there will be poor... and you'll have to pay more to treat that water. Because, Even if your direct bill is low, there is no such thing as cheap water. What you don't pay directly is paid for in another way."

And things don't stop there: "It has serious consequences on migration. When people can't produce, they flee. Also on security, because if there is more competition for the scarcest resources there will be clashes between those who use the land and the water like ranchers and farmers.

The situation is finished off by climate change. "This situation amplifies climate change because where the soil is degraded, CO2 emissions increase, which is what we want to avoid." One third of the CO2 that humanity releases into the atmosphere and causes climate change comes from land use. "That carbon comes out when you cut down a forest for farmland or do unsustainable farming practices."

In reality it is, says the United Nations representative, "a vicious circle: degradation exacerbates climate change and climate change, then impacts the territory and worsens droughts."

The main cause of the desertification that threatens Spain is the intensive activities on rather dry ecosystems that are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and poor land use.

Thiaw's conclusion is that "the current model of production and consumption has taken us to where we are in terms of overexploitation of resources. We have made an extractive production model, not of exploitation or management, but of extraction. Get the most out of land using productive techniques to feed more people.

And intensive production responds to intensive consumption: "We don't need that much. How many shirts do you have?" he asks. "Then there is food waste in the developed world: 50% of the world's arable land is used to produce livestock feed." In 2020, In Spain, 1,300 million kilos of uneaten food were thrown away. 31 kilos per person in a year.

And also what is not waste, but pure loss of food: "In some developing countries up to 30% of food production is lost before reaching the market due to lack, for example, of energy to preserve it", reveals the secretary.

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