Bringing a Drop of Hope to Combat Desertification
By admin June 22, 2016

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Last Friday, on World Day to Combat Desertification, a new report conducted by the International Resource Panel revealed that 24 billion tons of fertile soil and 15 billion trees are lost each year due to land degradation, affecting nearly one fourth of the world’s total global land area. Even more, it is estimated that 800 million people are chronically undernourished as a direct consequence of desertification. Today’s droughts caused by El Niño has pushed the number of countries in need of external food assistance up to 37 countries. As demonstrated in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the impact of desertification, extreme climate and environmental stress place huge pressures on already weak nations and bring civil strife to societies.

Desertification is described as the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by human activities and climatic variations. In general, desertification occurs with a decrease in vegetation on the ground, leading to decreased coverage from the sun and decreased moisture in the soil. Human activities that lead to desertification include stripping trees from the ground for fuel, timber or farming land, allowing livestock to overgraze and strip topsoil with their hooves in a concentrated area as well depleting nutrients in the soil through unsustainable farming practices. Because desertification will reduce the resilience of land to environmental variations, climatic events such as wind and water erosion, prolonged periods of drought and intensified wildfire cycles and dust storms not only contribute to desertification, but will also perpetuate and intensify it.

The loss of land to desertification is economically, politically, socially, and culturally devastating, causing and exacerbating poverty. Overall, desertification contributes to an estimated loss of US $42 billion in lost income. Even more, over the next 25 years, land degradation could reduce global food productivity by 12 percent leading to a 30 percent surge in world food prices. Reduced income and reduced food security combined with an impoverished government are only immediate consequences that to lead to social conflict. Long-term social and cultural impacts are apparent as well. Many children are no longer going to school because they are forced to go out and find water, leading to declining education rates, while migrations of large populations due to lack of productivity has led to a loss in cultural heritage.

While the statistics associated with desertification paints a bleak picture of present problems, recent advances in dryland development and sustainability science suggests that addressing land degradation should be confronted with optimism. After all, desertification is not always irreversible and solutions for land restoration can be economically stimulating and socially constructive. Current efforts to combat desertification revolve around scaling education to farmers about better land and water management techniques including resting land, limiting grazing, planting shrubbery, promoting indigenous species rehabilitation, cycling crops, and improving irrigation systems. Response to land degradation and food security has mobilized public, private and communal institutions bringing to light possible challenges in order to restore and redevelop lost lands.

For more information:

Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation Systems, Strategies and Tools

How Climate Change is Behind the Surge of Migrants to Europe

A quarter of India’s land is turning to desert, government report finds

When the State Wilts Away

Global Desertification: Building a Science for Dryland Development

Ethiopia’s farmers fight devastating drought with land restoration

On Day to Combat Desertification, UN calls for action to restore land resources

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