Effects of Desertification
Desertification poses many threats. In the fields of sustainable development and climate change, it is a serious problem mentioned in one of the 17 global goals for sustainable development. It is also a pertinent issue in the fields of herders in pastoral Africa and China with too many animals who overgraze the vegetation. Among the many preconceived notions and potential threats that it poses, there are several effects of desertification.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification is defined as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.” Defining and fixing desertification is a balancing act between human activity versus climatic activity. Environmental and social processes continue to stress the existing arable land still available. The resulting effect of desertification poses a threat to the condition of the land, the productivity of the agriculture and the health of the people, which all point to the larger issue of poverty in those areas.

Desertification’s Effect on Agriculture

Climatic change and human impact are the largest factors in desertification. Within the subcategory of climate change, one of the biggest causes includes climatic variation. Although desertification may intensify with a general climatic trend towards aridity, desertification itself can initiate change in local areas. As such, desertification has serious agricultural effects. When productive land becomes arid and useless, the absence of crop production on a local level has potential global effects. For example, in Jeffara, Tunisia, “desertification threatens around 52% of the land area suitable for agriculture, forestry and pasture farming.” Desertification in Jeffara has resulted in unusable forms of land with degrading soil, as well as salinization and water and wind erosion. These have all led to a loss of land productivity.

It would be natural to wonder what Tunisia has done to combat these contemporary issues. However, these issues are anything but contemporary. Tunisia has been on the search for solutions to desertification since ancient times since it contributes greatly to the country’s impoverished state. The first step to fighting these persistent issues is monitoring. With the use of monitoring initiatives, from field studies to high-resolution satellite images, The Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS) developed an environmental monitoring program to set up dashboards and agendas for countries combating desertification through the lens of national policy and sustainable management of resources. With monitoring initiatives like these, people can track the effects of desertification and governments can respond with suitable measures that can not only aid in reducing negative agricultural effects but also subsequently alleviate the poverty in the area.

Desertification’s Effect on the Environment

Beyond the agricultural aspect, desertification has a significant impact on the environment. There is a strong interrelation between desertification and climate change. Desertification not only compromises food production and future food security, but it also releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. The decomposition of organic matter and biomass in desertified areas in the last 7,800 years has resulted in carbon dioxide emissions that compare to the total emissions from fossil fuel combustion so far.

The Mediterranean Basin has felt these environmental effects of desertification since Platonic times. Plato described forests transforming into rocky lands, resembling “the bones of a sick body.” Unfortunately, this imagery still exists today. Because desertification results in carbon dioxide emissions without replenishing biomass and drastically changes the water content in degraded soil, one of the primary solutions is to restore moisture in drylands with silvopasture and agroforestry. These processes aim to rehabilitate desertified areas by rebuilding carbon sinks, while also providing employment to local farmers. These methods are a win-win solution since they address both the reversal of environmental degradation and the economic concerns of farmers.

Initiatives such as Project Wadi Attir in Northern Negev, Israel are adopting such approaches. The project aims to sequester 10-20 million tons of carbon dioxide into recovering biomass while providing work to thousands. These solutions are promising because they address the environmental effects of desertification while also providing jobs, both which aim to help the state of poverty in the area.

Desertification’s Effect on Health

The effects of desertification on agriculture and the environment points to a larger issue; the health of the people. According to the World Health Organization, land degradation has a significant effect on the health of the land as well as the people that live in it. Desertification forces food production to halt, water sources to dry up and inhabitants to move. Additionally, there are higher chances of malnutrition from this lack of access to food and water, respiratory diseases from the dust produced by wind erosion and the spread of disease due to migratory populations. The case of respiratory disease is not as regional as it may seem. For example, dust storms affect not only neighboring countries, but the entire globe. A recent study by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population showed that there is a strong correlation between dust storms in China and mortality in Korea, specifically with the onset of cardiovascular disease in males under 65 years old.

One of the best measures for preventing these adverse effects, as suggested by the aforementioned study, is early warning systems. According to the UNCCD, it is the synergy of “meteorological networks, air quality monitoring stations, and use of satellite data” that can best prevent these health risks. Another approach that shares similar goals with alleviating environmental effects is source mitigation. Sustainable land management and restoration techniques can both help the degraded land itself and prevent the source from spreading these adverse health effects.

Desertification is a complex topic. The question of what the effects of desertification are is a difficult one to answer because it involves complicated interactions between natural and human activity. Desertification manifests in negative agricultural, environmental and health effects, which are all indicators of poverty. The hope is that the solutions to these individual effects can address the larger issue of poverty in those arid regions.

– Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

Where is desertification happening

Approximately 42 percent of the planet is covered by dry land. With so much of our world covered by this specific ecosystem, it is important to draw attention to the environmental issues which affect it. Desertification, for instance, can be described as the process in which dryland is degraded permanently. This is caused by human activity such as deforestation and over-cultivation. With such a large global impact, desertification is something worth paying attention to. However, it can be challenging to understand how this issue affects the planet. Furthermore, the question still stands: where is desertification happening?

Global Impact

With the exception of Antarctica, desertification affects every continent. According to the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program), 36 million square miles of the world are currently affected by this. Land that is susceptible to desertification can become uninhabitable if not managed with sustainable environmental practices.

The UNEP estimates that by the year 2045, 135 million people may be displaced due to this environmental crisis. Currently, 1 billion people live in areas vulnerable to desertification.

Desertification in Africa

Africa is the simple answer to the question: where is desertification happening? More specifically, desertification plays its largest role in the grasslands of East Africa, the Kalahari Desert and the Sahara Desert. These regions span over 65 percent of the land.

In Ethiopia, 80 percent of the land is at risk of desertification. In addition, one-third of the continent is unsuitable for living due to climate changes. As Africa’s population continues to grow and desertification continues to be ignored, more of the land becomes arid and uninhabitable. This issue is particularly prevalent in Africa. This is due to the low soil fertility and bedrocks found across the continent.

Countries within the Sahara remain some of the poorest in the world. Malawi, for example, has a GDP per capita of $338.50 and an average lifespan of only 63 years. Desertification can also be linked to poverty because it creates climates which are not suitable for food production and other economic activities. This reflects negatively on the infrastructure and the economy.

One example of how poverty affects Africa is through its agricultural losses. Every year, the continent loses about 280 million tonnes of cereal crops. Poverty, in turn, leads to unsustainable environmental practices such as poor irrigation and overgrazing. Thus, creating a vicious cycle between poverty and desertification.

Helping Hands

To further the answer of, “where is desertification happening?” it’s important to note those that are successfully fighting against the issue. The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement. It is aiming to reduce the effects of desertification. It does this by creating a wall of plants along the Sahel region. The organization has already restored 15 million hectares of degraded land in Ethiopia. Additionally, 12 million drought-resistant trees have been planted in Senegal. The goal is not only to rehabilitate the land but also to create a symbol of sustainable environmental practices around the world.

In addition, the Global Drylands Initiative is being used to create global discourse around this topic. The International Union for Conservation Nature manages the initiative. It aims to reduce the effects of desertification through advocacy work. The mission is to create government policies which monitor desertification through scientific basis.

Where is Desertification Happening?

Desertification is a climate issue that is occurring on almost every continent. It affects more than half of Africa’s land. People living in areas where desertification is occurring are more likely to face poverty. Those affected by poverty are less likely to practice environmentally-sustainable actions. This, in turn, creates a vicious cycle of poverty and environmental deterioration. The good news is that there are people looking to help. Organizations such as the Great Green Wall and the Global Drylands Initiative are working to create a world in which desertification can be prevented for future generations.

– Anna Melnik
Photo: Flickr

Facts About DesertificationDesertification has become a growing problem that the world faces today. It occurs on almost every continents. Millions of people are affected by this issue. The following will discuss facts about desertification, including the issues and the impact on people and their health.

What is Desertification?

Desertification can be defined as the degradation of land in areas that experience arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid climates. It is when fertile land becomes dry and unusable. Desertification is caused by a variety of human factors. These factors include unsustainable farming, clearing of forestation and trees, overgrazing and mining.

10 Facts About Desertification

  1. There are a variety of factors that cause the issue of desertification. Causes of desertification range from the removal of trees and plants to intensive farming that depletes the fertile soil. Other causes can be as simple as animals eating away all of the grass in the arid or drylands. Besides human activity, extreme weather such as droughts and excessive heat can attribute to the cause of desertification.
  2. United Nations predicts that within the next 10 years, 50 million people in the drylands will be displaced due to desertification. Drylands are areas that have a scarcity of water due to climate. Specifically, thousands of Sub-Saharan and South Asian peoples will be forced to migrate due to the impacts of desertification.
  3. Approximately 2 billion people rely on and live in dryland area climates. Ninety percent of those people are from developing countries. A developing country is a country that is not as industrialized as other developed countries. The FLEUVE Project aims to increase investments in local communities throughout areas impacted by drought and land degradation caused by desertification. The organization is financed by the European Commission and implemented under the Great Green Wall Initiative. The FLEUVE Project plans to create green jobs (jobs regarding the restoration of land). Since the launch of The Great Green Wall Initiative, twenty thousand jobs have been created in Nigeria.
  4. Overpopulation in drylands can also impact the soil of the area. For instance, the pressure of overpopulation can deplete the fertile soil and cause desertification. When soil becomes depleted and unusable for farming, mass migration to urban areas increase. Therefore, this results in overpopulating urban areas.
  5. According to the United Nations (another resource for facts about desertification), the rate of dryland desertification is approximately 30 to 35 percent higher than the historical rates. In 1991, land degradation was approximately 15 percent. This increased again in 2008 to 24 percent. Today, the rate of degradation is equivalent to the loss of 12 million hectares of land per year.
  6. Due to the depleted soil that is an impact of desertification, those living in affected areas are susceptible to malnutrition. Since the soil is no longer fertile, food insecurity subsequently rises. Those who relied on farming as a source of food can no longer continue to farm in those areas.
  7. Poor nutrition and a lack of clean water are one of the many issues of desertification. Moreover, these particular issues can lead to other health problems. The risk of water- and food-borne diseases, as well as respiratory diseases, increase in areas affected by desertification. Again, as people migrate to urban areas, diseases will spread rapidly throughout the population as they travel.
  8. Desertification does not just affect drylands. Areas that are several miles away from these arid areas can also be impacted by the issues of desertification. Impacts can range, from flooding to dust storms, in several non-dryland areas.
  9. Land and water management are methods used to prevent or lessen the impact of desertification. Water management can include saving water, harvesting water from rainfall, reusing water and the desalination of water. Desalination of water removes any saline from the water that is collected. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification has been a sole international leader in the implementation of initiatives to aid those impacted by desertification. Additionally, it leads restoration projects for degraded land.
  10. The final of these ten facts about desertification is about The Great Green Wall Initiative. The Initiative was launched by the African Union in 2007. The goal of The Great Green Wall Initiative is to restore degraded land and transform the lives of those that are living in the conditions caused by desertification. The Initiative plans to revitalize 100 million hectares of degraded land. By doing so, 10 million jobs will be created, and 250 million tons of carbon will be created. Since the launch Nigeria has restored five million hectares of land, Sudan restored 2,000 hectares and Senegal planted 11.4 million trees. The organization has five main objectives:
    • grow fertile land,
    • increase economic opportunities (particularly for the youngest population),
    • support the growth of food security,
    • grow climate resilience and
    • “grow a wonder of the world spanning 8000 km across Africa”.

The Impact of Desertification

Overall, as the rate of desertification increases, thousands of people are impacted every day. These facts about desertification clearly show how desertification has become a global issue. They are certainly driven by multiple forces. The United Nations has deemed it one of the greatest challenges for our environment.

– Logan Derbes

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Desertification
As the world continues to heat up from causes both natural and manmade, nations across the globe are seeing once fertile land becoming barren and unproductive. Some consider this process, known as desertification, irreversible. Officially, the United Nations defines desertification as “the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.” The shrinking of arable land threatens food and water security for those in poor and rural areas. Poverty and desertification go hand in hand in a vicious cycle. It is important to understand where this phenomenon tends to occur and what the causes of desertification are.

Where Does Desertification Occur?

Desertification is most common in Africa. More specifically, areas of sub-Saharan Africa see the largest amount of devastation from this environmental issue. By 2030, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that upwards of two-thirds of Africa’s fertile, productive soil will be lost if desertification continues.

In Ethiopia, FAO calculates that desertification causes the loss of 92,000 hectares of woodlands every year, along with 2 billion tons of fertile, productive soil. As a result, Ethiopian citizens cannot rely on food security. Senegal, a country all the way across the continent from Ethiopia, also struggles with the harsh effects of desertification. Here, desertification causes low productivity in agriculture and has forced Senegal’s citizens to migrate.

Africa is not the only victim, however. Mexico’s citizens are suffering, too. Many entering the U.S. from Mexico are fleeing poverty caused by land degradation, according to the Natural Heritage Institute. The state of Oaxaca, where fruit trees native to Mexico once flourished, possesses dry patches of land no longer useful for agriculture. Every year, nearly one million Mexican citizens have little choice but to migrate away from the barren land that threatens job opportunities and food security.

The Causes of Desertification

Desertification is caused by a number of different issues. Human hands or natural occurrences can exacerbate or spark desertification. In areas of low precipitation, like Sub-Saharan Africa, long droughts that turn arid land to unproductive, barren soil are a frequent cause of desertification. Drought alters just about everything including farming opportunity, food and water security, population growth and migration. Drought exacerbates poverty, which is already an issue in many Sub-Saharan countries like Ethiopia and Senegal. Many people in these areas are unable to confront what causes desertification without proper preparation.

Human activities are also what cause desertification in many cases. Overcultivation or overcropping occurs in population-dense areas around the globe. Soil nutrients deplete and become unproductive in areas where growers overuse and overharvest formerly arable land. In Nigeria, over cultivation is a major issue threatening the livelihood of its citizens who depend on the nearly infertile land for agriculture.

Overgrazing of livestock is another root issue of desertification. Farmers would formerly graze livestock by moving the animals around, but this is no longer the case. Cattle grazing in a permanent space prevents the regeneration of the plants the animals are feeding on. Overgrazing makes the soil unusable since the land is unable to keep up with the needs of the livestock. This is a large threat in the Central Asian rangelands, like Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

The Good News

The world can combat this phenomenon by understanding the causes of desertification and implementing various acts to aid in regenerating arable land. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), established in 1994, is working to improve conditions and increase productivity in vulnerable areas of the world. The organization created the Great Green Wall Initiative, in which the goals are to expand arable land, generate more economic opportunities and increase food and water security in struggling areas, among other objectives.

Action Against Desertification, an initiative built off of the Green Wall Initiative, is helping six African countries (Ethiopia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Niger and Nigeria) that struggle most profoundly with desertification by educating farmers about more sustainable agricultural practices, planting millions of seedlings to expand arable land and rehabilitating desertified forests.

In May of 2017, the China-U.N. Peace and Development Trust Fund created the Juncao Technology project to combat desertification, erosion and hunger in Asian and African countries. The project’s approach is to replace wood with grass. This, in turn, will help to soften the blow of overgrazing and generate clean energy, all while preventing soil erosion and desertification.

Further, the UNCCD is working to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN), which is defined as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.”

– Anna Giffels
Photo: Flickr

Desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

The Sahara desert is already the largest desert in the world, stretching 3,320,000 square miles across the northern part of the continent. However, due to the effects of desertification in Africa, the Sahara desert continues to grow and consume fertile lands around it.

Made up of sand sheets and dunes, the Sahara desert spans 11 different countries, including Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Libya. The region of Sahel forms a transitional zone between the arid desert lands in the north and the more humid savannas in the south. This area is facing the greatest risk from desertification as the Sahara desert pushes outward into the Sahel region.

What is Desertification?

Desertification is defined as the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by climatic variations and human activities. Simply put, desertification is the process by which fertile lands become deserts, typically because of drought, deforestation or inappropriate agriculture. Desertification affects up to 30 percent of land worldwide, and 1.5 billion people around the world depend on land at risk from desertification for their main source of food or income. Seventy-four percent of these people already live in poverty.

Desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, desertification may force up to 50 million people to flee their homes by 2020. Since 1923, the Sahara Desert has expanded by 10 percent, especially affecting people living in the Sahel region. Dryland covers 65 percent of the African continent, and 70 to 80 percent of people in Ethiopia and Kenya are threatened by desertification. However, The Great Green Wall, established in 2007, is helping to end desertification in Africa.

Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement to grow a wall of trees, 8,000 km long, across the continent of Africa. Once finished, it will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times larger than the Great Barrier Reef. Stretching across the Sahel region, which is the region most affected by desertification, the Great Green Wall initiative hopes to change the lives of millions of people.

Since 2007, the Great Green Wall has had countless success stories. In Ethiopia, 15 million hectares of land were restored from their desert-like state. In Senegal, the organization planted 11.4 million trees. In Niger, farmers were able to grow an extra 500,000 tons of grain to feed 2.5 million people, all because of 5 million hectares of land restored by the Great Green Wall.

With $8 billion pledged, the Great Green Wall is increasing food security, resilience to climate change and job availability while decreasing drought, famine and migration. By 2030, its goal is to restore 100 million hectares of land and create a minimum of 350,000 jobs for rural workers.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is one organization supporting The Great Green Wall.  They have launched a public awareness campaign called ‘Growing a World Wonder,’ and implemented the FLEUVE project, which strengthens local communities in their effort to help the Great Green Wall initiative.

With help from supporters and local communities, the Great Green Wall is working to combat desertification in sub-Saharan Africa and restore land, jobs and food for millions of people in the sub-Saharan region.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Flickr

Desertification
According to the U.N., desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges people face today. Often a poorly-understood phenomenon, desertification can mean hunger, economic crisis or death for those living in poverty. Below are the answers to common questions about desertification.

Desertification FAQ’s

  1. What is desertification? Desertification refers to the process of fertile land becoming unproductive. This means that the land struggles to grow any type of vegetation due to lack of minerals and nutrients in the soil.
  2. What causes it? Desertification can be caused by many factors, including deforestation, overpopulation, poor agricultural practices or climate change.
  3. What are some misconceptions about desertification? Although the word “desert” is normally associated with sand, desertification does not necessarily mean the land is becoming sand-covered. Instead, desertification occurs when a dryland ecosystem, or ecosystem that lacks water, becomes unproductive due to the tolls of the environment or human beings.
  4. Where does it happen? Desertification can happen anywhere as long as there is land with soil. Typically, the phenomenon is seen in drylands that suffer from droughts or heavy amounts of migration.
  5. How are desertification and poverty connected? According to the U.N., there are roughly two billion people who live and depend on dryland ecosystems, and up to 90 percent of those live in developing countries. These dryland ecosystems are prime environments for desertification to occur.
  6. How does desertification affect poverty? A population in poverty that suffers from desertification can become further impoverished due to the lack of sustainable land. Desertification can lead to starvation in developing countries.
  7. What does it mean for everyone else? When desertification threatens those in poverty, it also threatens global security. It can influence war, political unrest and mass migration.
  8. What can be done to prevent it? To prevent desertification caused by humans, it is beneficial to work with farmers to apply sustainable farming practices before desertification occurs. Preventing overpopulation is also important.
  9. What can we do to aid those in poverty who suffer from desertification? According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the most efficient way to aid those in poverty is to work with them to restore their own land. This restoration includes three approaches: resting, reseeding and planting.
  10. Can desertification be reversed? Reversing desertification is challenging, but it is possible with dedication. In 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was established in order to manage and develop land that has succumbed to desertification. Strategies such as reforestation, soil hyper-fertilization and water management have been implemented in order to begin salvaging lands affected by desertification.

In 2003, then-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan declared desertification to be “both a cause and a consequence of poverty.” Using sustainable farming methods, we can fight the consequences of desertification and work to end poverty around the globe.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

what is desertification
What is desertification? Though an unfamiliar term, it is rather intuitive. Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semiarid, or dry subhumid regions due to climate variations and human activities such as over-cropping, overgrazing, improper irrigation practices and deforestation. Desertification occurs all across the world, but Sub-Saharan and Central Asian drylands are particularly vulnerable. Presently, somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of the world’s land surface area is affected, jeopardizing the livelihoods of around 1.2 billion people.

Desertification’s devastating effects on the availability of food, water, fuel and building materials renders landscapes inhospitable to human life. In these sort of resourceless, fragile states, local conflicts over water or land can escalate into civil wars, sexual violence or genocide, as for instance, in the cases of Darfur, Mali, Chad and Afghanistan. Depleted and destabilized communities quickly become humanitarian crises, as those affected flee to become refugees and forced migrants, or stay and fall into radical resource-driven wars. Environmental disasters inevitably become human calamities. Therefore, in order to address issues of poverty, it is necessary to address environmental issues, and vice versa.

While desertification is perhaps not a global priority, it ought to be; many are working to combat its effects on land and people. The European Union (EU) is funding a four-year project called Wadis-Mar to counter desertification in North Africa where water scarcity and overexploitation of groundwater have diminished the region. While Wadis-Mar will utilize new technologies to combat this water crisis, a focus on education in responsible water sustainability and agricultural techniques is crucial to the continued success of the project. Likewise, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) applies curative measures to communities across the world ravaged by desertification, from reforestation projects in South Africa’s Baviaanskloof Hartland to Chinese public education events that teach sustainability, land restoration and conservation.

Landscapes don’t have to decay and displace people. Understanding the reciprocity of humans’ relationship to the earth and modifying practices can help defeat the poverty cycle and restore people to their homes.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr