Desertification Costs World Economy up to 15 trillion dollars – U.N.

Forest fires, droughts and other forms of land degradation cost the global economy as much as 15 trillion dollars every year and are deepening the climate change crisis. Pictured is a drone visual of an area in Upper East Region, Ghana prior to restoration taken in 2015. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah /IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2019 – Forest fires, droughts and other forms of land degradation cost the global economy as much as 15 trillion dollars every year and are deepening the climate change crisis, a top United Nations environment official said Friday.

Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said the degradation of land was shaving 10-17 percent off the world economy, which the World Bank calculates at 85.8 trillion dollars.

“In very simple terms, the message is to say: invest in land restoration as a way of improving livelihoods, in reducing vulnerabilities contributing to climate change, and reducing risks for the economy,” Thiaw said in response to a question from IPS.

Thiaw spoke to reporters in New York through a video-link from New Delhi, India, where delegates from UNCCD signatories are gathering for talks on tackling the desertification threat, which runs until Sept. 13.

Droughts and desertification currently hit 70 countries each year, while sand and dust storms are becoming a growing menace around the world, leading to asthma, bronchitis and other health problems, Thiaw warned.

“The good news is that the technology, the science and the knowledge is there to actually reduce land degradation and fix this phenomenon once and for all,” said Thiaw, formerly a Mauritanian official and deputy chief of the U.N. Environment Programme.

“Land restoration is being done in many parts of the world and by restoring land we are able to mitigate climate change.”

Some 100 government ministers and 8,000 delegates from 196 countries are at the UNCCD talks, which will cover drought, land tenure, restoring ecosystems, climate change, health, sand and dust storms and funding to revamp cities.

Thiaw praised a record-breaking turnout of decision-makers in the Indian capital that “could mark a major turning point for how we manage the scarce land and water resources we have left.”

Attendees include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his counterpart from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, and the world body’s deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed.

An outcome document, known as the “Delhi Declaration”, will inform this month’s climate summit in New York and spur a “coalition of like-minded countries” to make firmer pledges on tackling droughts, said Thiaw.

“We are fast running out of time to build our resilience to climate change, avoid the loss of biological diversity and valuable ecosystems and achieve all other Sustainable Development Goals,” said Thiaw, referencing the U.N.’s SDG agenda. 

“But we can turn around the lives of the over 3.2 billion people all over the world that are negatively impacted by desertification and drought, if there is political will. And we can revitalise ecosystems that are collapsing from a long history of land transformation and, in too many cases, unsustainable land management.”

Droughts are getting worse, says the UNCCD. By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will experience serious water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in “water-stressed” conditions.

Though droughts are complex and develop slowly, they cause more deaths than other types of disasters, the UNCCD warns. By 2045, droughts will have forced as many as 135 million people from their homes.

Last month, a report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that better management of land can help limit the release of greenhouse gases and thus combat global warming.

Tackling desertification and other forms of land degradation could help keep the global rise in temperatures below the benchmark figure of 2 degrees Celsius, IPCC scientists said in the 43-page study. 

Uniting for Zero Leprosy in Manila

By Sasakawa Health Foundation – The Nippon Foundation
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, Sep 7 2019 (IPS-Partners)

World Health Organization’s (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and recipient of the 2019 Order of the Rising Sun as well as the 2018 Gandhi Peace Prize, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, is in the Philippines to call on academics, medical stakeholders and those affected by the disease to unite towards “Zero Leprosy”. 

Mr. Sasakawa, chairperson of The Nippon Foundation (TNF) – one of Japan’s largest private organisations – is attending two key global conferences on the disease being held in Manila this week. The first is the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease, which is being held September 7 to 10, and the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC), from September 11 to 13.

Mr. Sasakawa will also call on experts to continue working on discovering the causes of transmission of the disease but to also continue developing vaccines, and create prosthetics and orthotics for those with Hansen’s disease.

“With globalization, human mobility and migration are increasing. Leprosy remains a global disease, even though the number of medical specialists are decreasing rapidly world-wide,” Mr Sasakawa said.

People with Hansen’s disease face severe social stigma and widespread discrimination about the disease and organizations representing them want a a greater voice in creating solutions.

For the last 40 years Mr. Sasakawa has been a leading figure in the global fight against Hansen’s disease. He has visited more than 90 countries and met more than 150 national leaders, including presidents and prime ministers, sharing his message and gaining their support and commitment to eliminate leprosy.


Significant contributions to leprosy elimination

  • Since 1975 TNF and its sister organisation, Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF), have contributed over USD200 million in financial support for the WHO’s Global Leprosy programme. This funding also covered the free distribution of multi-drug therapy (MDT) from 1995 until 1999 when Novartis took over provision of the drug.
  • Mr. Sasakawa’s advocacy for discrimination against people with leprosy to be included in the United Nations human rights agenda, resulted in the landmark 2010 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members and accompanying principle and guidelines.
  • TNF and SHF have supported 23 organisations in 16 countries that are working to promote the social and economic rehabilitation of persons affected by leprosy.
  • TNF and SHF have organised a number of conferences, symposiums and workshops to raise awareness around Hansen’s disease such as International Symposium “Towards Holistic Care for People with Hansen’s Disease, Respectful of their Dignity” at the Vatican in 2016 and National Leprosy Conference in Myanmar in 2018.


The Global Forum 

The Global Forum, organised by TNF and SHF, is a gathering of delegates from organisations of persons affected by Hansen’s disease, as well as other stakeholders representing public health, charitable and social services organisations.

Almost 100 participants from 23 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean will share their know-how and experiences in eliminating Hansen’s disease, or leprosy as it is commonly known.

    Objectives of the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease

    • A key objective of the forum will be to explore ways to enhance the organisations’ influence over health policy in their respective countries.
    • Another objective of the global forum will be to focus on organisational sustainability and capacity to enable the organisations to achieve their long-term goals.

“Our role is to provide a platform for people’s organizations to discuss the issues that matter to them. The Global Forum is their meeting. We hope they will use the opportunity to network, learn from each other, and make their voices heard as never before,” SHF said.

“Ahead of the 20th International Leprosy Congress, they can provide a “people’s perspective” on leprosy and what still needs to be done.”


Attendees of the forum are also scheduled to hear from Dr. Francine Laxamana, Assistant Secretary of the Philippines Department of Health, Dr. Alice Cruz, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Dr. Huong Tran, Director of Diseases Control Division at WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific.


International Leprosy Congress

Following the global forum, the 20th ILC, hosted by the Philippine Department of Health, will take place. A key objective of the ILC will be to assess the progress of the WHO’s Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020.

Delegates from the Global Forum will provide a “people’s perspective” on efforts to combat Hansen’s Disease at the ILC.

Mr. Sasakawa will speak to experts and stakeholders at the ILC on September 11.

“This is probably the only academic conference in the world in which persons affected by the disease participate so actively,” said Mr. Sasakawa.



For further information and interviews with Mr. Sasakawa please contact:

Chiemi Sanga

Sasakawa Health Foundation

Phone: +81-70-4509-4213



Notes to reporters:

  • Hansen’s disease – commonly known as leprosy – is a serious bacterial infection and mainly affects the skin.
  • Hansen’s disease is curable and early treatment averts disability.
  • The disease has an incubation period of about 5 years with symptoms presenting within a year and sometimes up to 20 years after infection.
  • With the information of an effective antibiotic multi-drug therapy (MDT) in the early 1980s, a global effort to provide treatment free of charge to patients has reached some 16 million people.
  • WHO data shows that some 200,000 cases are identified annually. India, Brazil and Indonesia account for the largest number of cases.