The year 2007 has already seen a high number of extreme events, such as droughts in parts of southern Africa leading to a reduction in maize production of about 40 to 60 per cent in Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a conference of member countries of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), closing in Madrid today. He noted that WMO contributed to the understanding of interactions between climate and land degradation through dedicated observations of the climate system, proper assessment and management of water resources, advances in climate science and prediction, and promotion of capacity-building in the application of meteorological and hydrological data to drought preparedness and management. The Conference welcomed the WMO International Workshop on Climate and Land Degradation held in Arusha last year, which recommended various steps including use of historical climate data and change scenarios for strategic planning, targeted weather forecasts at all levels and at very local scales to help make appropriate decisions, and improved gathering of detailed rainfall intensity data to assess surface erosion. In a message to the Conference earlier this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the linked scourges of desertification and climate change are impeding the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash world poverty and hunger, infant andf maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015. 14 September 2007With more intense, longer droughts searing ever-larger areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics, one of the most important issues facing the world today is the need to ensure food security through the sustainable management of water and soil resources, according to the top United Nations meteorological official.