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

Dryland ecosystems are classified as having long periods of drought with very short seasons of intense, heavy rainfall. They cover approximately 40 percent of the earth’s surface, particularly in developing countries, where 1/3 of the global population lives.

Drylands have extremely limited access to clean drinking water. However, there has been a recent surge in the construction of sand dams, currently the most cost-effective technology in water collection.

Sand dams combine ancient rainwater collecting techniques, everyday building materials and local manpower to collect clean water that would otherwise become runoff, carrying away fertile topsoil essential to subsistence farming. A moderately sized dam can supply over 1,000 people with a consistent supply of filtered water, even during the year’s driest seasons.

According to reporter and producer Russell Beard, “A sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built across a seasonal riverbed. Over three or four rainy seasons, sand is washed downstream and deposited in the reservoir behind the dam wall, which stores up to 40 percent of its volume as water. The sand slows evaporation, filters the water, and protects it from contamination by livestock or disease-carrying mosquitoes.”

Timber, rocks, cement, sand and water are the only raw materials needed to build a sand dam, all of which are supplied by donor funding. Local community members work together to build the dam structures and the women and girls are usually deemed responsible for water collection.

Excellent Development, a UK based nonprofit organization, has devoted its entire efforts to distributing sand dam technology to dryland areas, in hopes of providing stable water security to poor, rural populations all over Africa.

Excellent Development published a report, Sand Dams: The World’s Most Cost-Effective Method of Conserving Rainwater, which outlines the desperate need for sand dam construction.

The report states, “Drylands cover approximately 40% of the world’s land area and support 80% of the world’s poorest people, mostly in the rural areas of Africa and Asia. Approximately 10% of drylands display symptoms of land degradation: Water scarcity, sparse vegetation, soil erosion and nutrient depletion; further diminishing the ability of ecosystems to absorb and store rainwater.”

Sand dam construction not only provides clean drinking water, but also replenishes local ecosystems, increases food security and promotes community cooperation.

Executive Director of Excellent Development Simon Maddrell said, “Sand dams are the most cost-effective method of rainwater harvesting known. They have the potential to provide communities living in dryland areas with a clean local water supply for life, even during periods of drought. We know how much this is needed, especially in dryland areas of the world – where 80% of the world’s poorest people live. We also know that access to water in these areas is likely to worsen: Climate change is already altering rain patterns, creating more droughts, more floods and shorter, more intense rains.”

To date, Excellent Development has pioneered the construction of 838 sand dams, planted 935,000 trees, dug 1.5 million meters of terraces, built 43 community seed banks, built 51 school water tanks and brought fresh, filtered water to nearly one million people.

– Hanna Darroll

Sources: UNDP, The Water Project, Excellent Development
Photo: Excellent Development