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Published On: 06/05/2024

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY 2024 – “Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience”

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY 2024 – “Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience

World Environment Day is a United Nations International Day led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) observed annually on June 05th since 1973. It is a crucial day for raising global awareness and taking action on pressing global environmental issues.

This year’s World Environment Day campaign focuses on accelerating land restoration, halting desertification, and building drought resilience under the slogan “Our land. Our Future. We are #GenerationRestoration.” This comes as the year marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Land sustains all life on Earth hence the call to restore our lands to reverse the creeping tide of land degradation, drought, and desertification. In his World Environment Day message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the world's significant challenges. He mentioned a dangerous combination of pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss that is causing once-healthy lands to become deserts and thriving ecosystems to turn into lifeless areas. Forests and grasslands are connected and their degradation erodes the strength of the land to support ecosystems, agriculture, and communities. Land restoration is the ecological process of halting degradation or rehabilitating degraded lands through various activities that protect natural processes. It enhances biodiversity, restores ecosystem services, and mitigates climate change impacts. It is crucial to address land restoration and actively tackle the drivers of land degradation, drought, and desertification, particularly climate change, which leads to severe impacts such as storms, floods, and drought.

Ezulwini Town Council joined the millions of people across the globe in celebrating this day focusing particularly on land restoration. On June 04th, 2024, the Municipality held a land restoration campaign at Kobe Ramokgadi Advanced Learning Academy with Councillors, Municipal staff, and various Ezulwini schools’ Green Clubs. As part of the land restoration activities, the initiative entailed the removal of invasive alien plants (IAPs) and the subsequent reforestation with indigenous tree species provided by the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, facilitated through the Department of Forestry. The rehabilitation site was a sports field at the school which stands adjacent to a wetland bordering the property.

The restoration of the site presented a distinctive opportunity to contribute positively to human health and well-being, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 3. Studies report that outdoor physical activity and engagement with nature provide a variety of physical and mental health benefits including stress relief and improved cognition. Restoring green infrastructure, such as the sports field, will offer a multitude of physical and mental advantages. By encouraging physical activity, it can help decrease the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, and mental health issues for both students and educators.

Moreover, incorporating trees in urban areas has proven to be effective in cooling local temperatures and mitigating heat stress through shade provision and evaporative cooling. Trees also offer the benefits of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere to offset emissions as well as help hold soil in place and combat soil erosion. Additionally,  trees absorb and store rainwater thereby reducing runoff and sediment deposits after storms which aids in groundwater supply recharge, and prevents flooding while their fallen leaves enrich the soil making it more healthy and fertile.

Invasive alien plant species (IAPs) tend to grow taller and have deeper roots compared to indigenous plant species. This results in increased biomass and evapotranspiration rates, which ultimately decreases groundwater recharge. Additionally, IAPs reduce the capacity of rangelands to support livestock and wildlife, leading to a significant decrease in biodiversity. However, land restoration can stabilize the ecosystem functions and prevent the spread of IAPs.

 

WAYS TO RESTORE LAND, HALT DESERTIFICATION AND COMBAT DROUGHT (United Nations Environment Programme, 2024)

  1. Save the soil and Make agriculture sustainable

Healthy soil acts as a carbon sink, locking in greenhouse gases that would otherwise enter the atmosphere, playing a vital role in climate mitigation. To ensure soil's continued health and productivity, governments and the finance sector must support organic and soil-friendly farming practices. Agricultural businesses can develop climate-resilient crops, harness Indigenous knowledge to develop sustainable farming methods, and better manage the use of pesticides and fertilizers to avoid harming soil health. The Council, for example, will launch an urban garden project to educate residents on sustainable agriculture, which they can practice in their backyard gardens. Additionally, the Council is involved in a women-led project of making compost from kitchen/food waste, which reduces waste sent to the landfill and also aids in improving soil fertility and ensuring productivity.

  1. Protect the pollinators

Three out of four crops producing fruit and seeds depend on pollinators. It is crucial to recognize that all pollinators, particularly bees, are experiencing a significant decline despite their critical role in our ecosystem. To protect them, people need to reduce air pollution, minimize the adverse impact of pesticides and fertilizers, and conserve the meadows, forests, and wetlands where pollinators thrive. Planting a variety of native flowers in the city and home gardens will also attract birds, butterflies, and bees. With the launch of the urban gardens project where a variety of plants are grown, pollinators will thrive ensuring food security. Additionally, the Council’s move to collaborate with the women-led cooperative which turns food waste into compost, residents and businesses are empowered to grow their food organically or with minimal use of fertilizers and pesticides some of which could be destructive to some pollinators.

  1. Restore freshwater ecosystems

Freshwater ecosystems sustain the water cycles that keep land fertile. They supply food and water to billions of people, protect us from droughts and floods, and provide a habitat for countless plants and animals. Yet they are disappearing at an alarming rate due to pollution, climate change, overfishing and over-extraction. To address this issue, it is essential to enhance water quality, pinpoint the sources of pollution, and diligently monitor the health of freshwater ecosystems. To ensure this, the Municipality conducts routine inspections of all water sources in town and undertakes water quality tests to ensure that pollution is minimized. Additionally, Invasive species could be removed from degraded freshwater habitats and native vegetation replanted; the rehabilitation campaign at Kobe High School today was an example of such initiatives the Municipality is involved in.

  1. Bring nature back to cities

Cities consume 75 percent of the planet’s resources, produce more than half its global waste, and generate at least 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. As cities grow, they transform the natural world around them, potentially leading to droughts and land degradation. Urban forests can improve air quality, provide more shade, and reduce the need for mechanical cooling. Preserving cities’ canals, ponds, and other water bodies can alleviate heat waves and increase biodiversity. The Municipality is currently undertaking the development of its Town Planning Scheme which will ensure a balance between the natural and built environment. Moreover, residents and businesses of Ezulwini are encouraged to install more roofs and vertical gardens in their buildings to provide habitats for birds, insects, and plants. 

  1. Generate financing for restoration

Governments must invest in early warning systems to prevent the worst impacts of drought. They must allocate funds for land restoration activities and nature-based solutions. The private sector could integrate ecosystem restoration into their business models, implement efficient waste management practices, and invest in social enterprises focused on sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism, and green technology. In its current budget, the Ezulwini Municipality has set aside funds for land restoration initiatives such as the support of Schools’ Green Clubs, Open Spaces Management, Bylaws, and the State of Environment Report. This step illustrates the Council’s intent and commitment to restoring degraded lands within the town.

 

Some of the planned activities that the Council will be undertaking in line with this theme include the presentation of the newly completed Drought Management Plan to Stakeholders. This plan will help build the capacity for Ezulwini to become drought-resilient. Activating Public Open Spaces throughout the town will assist in restoring the land against damage and the growth of Invasive Alien Species. The implementation of urban gardens, such as the PELUM Garden situated in Ward 4, serves to enlighten residents on sustainable agricultural practices, thereby aiding in the mitigation of food insecurity.v