This year, on the World Day to Combat Desertification and drought, the European Commission turns the spotlight on the value of land, and looks at how to tackle the multiple threats it faces globally and in Europe. New EU measures for safe water reuse for agricultural irrigation are one way to do it.
The amount of land currently available for cultivation continues to shrink at global level, with over half of the land used for agriculture worldwide moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. Twelve million hectares of soil are lost each year specifically to land degradation and drought, through a combination of unsustainable agricultural practices and climate change.
In the EU, approximately 22% of soil is affected by erosion. In Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, 8% of the territory currently shows very high or high sensitivity of desertification. Looking ahead, large parts of Southern Europe are likely to become desertified by 2050 if strong action is not taken, including to make soils much more resilient.
Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: "Our lives are intimately connected to land. Land degradation affects our capacity to produce food, prevent droughts and flooding, stop biodiversity loss, tackle climate change, and even migration. But it can be reversed with the right policies. Our recent proposal for safer water reuse in agriculture will help EU regions affected by water scarcity and droughts."
As part of an integrated water management approach, the European Commission recently adopted measures to ensure safe reuse of treated water from urban waste water treatment plants for agricultural irrigation. The proposal is a concrete tool to help areas where water scarcity is already a reality today. By setting minimum requirements for quality and monitoring, as well as introducing key risk management tasks, the proposal provides for a harmonised approach to water reuse for irrigation across the EU. Water reuse fits into the transition to a circular economy in Europe, and complements the Common Agricultural Policy.
Measures to address land degradation through sustainable land management policies are a key element in agricultural policy and have also been integrated in forest, soil protection and water management policies as well as in climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Timely action to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation can increase food and water security, contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation and avoid conflicts and migration. This is particularly important for the projected 4 billion people living in drylands in 2050.
Next week the Commission is also publishing a new report on land degradation. The third edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, developed by the Joint Research Center, portrays the dynamic human footprint on Earth and its consequences for land resources, suggesting actions to reverse, arrest, or adapt to them.
17 June 2018