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Desertification ~. What is desertification?. "Desertification" is the process whereby productive land becomes so seriously eroded that any remaining soil loses nutrients essential to plant growth. The natural causes are manifold: drought, higher temperatures, lower water tables, and

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what is desertification
What is desertification?
  • "Desertification" is the process whereby productive land becomes so seriously eroded that any remaining soil loses nutrients essential to plant growth.
  • The natural causes are manifold: drought,
  • higher temperatures,
  • lower water tables, and
  • deforested land.
  • Erosion — especially wind erosion — does the rest.

Swaziland: soil erosion causes ravines.(IDRC Photo: N. McKee)

the role humans play
The role humans play:
  • Human activity can play a considerable role in degrading land. For various reasons, including poverty and over-population, people are driven to-
  • destroy forest belts,
  • practice poor irrigation, and
  • use inappropriate agricultural methods such as slash and burn, shorter fallow periods, and soil nutrient mining.
  • Mexico: a farmer uses the slash and burn technique to clear a field.(IDRC Photo: P. Bennett)
the effects of desertification
The effects of desertification:
  • Wind erosion is suspected of contributing to the formation of more frequent and more intense hurricanes in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, the stress on the world’s food-producing capacity, air pollution, a global loss of biodiversity, and, of course, massive suffering for those robbed of their means of survival.
  • China: dune stabilization.

The plants’ roots slow the movement

of the sand.  (IDRC Photo: D. Anton)

a growing problem
A growing problem:
  • Land degradation is increasing at an alarming rate.
  • UNEP estimates that –
  • 250 million people are directly affected by land degradation in dryland regions, and 
  • more than one billion are at risk.
  • Drylands covers up to 40% of the Earth’s surface.
  • More than 110 countries are potentially at risk.
  • Egypt: a farmer in an arid field.(IDRC Photo: P. Bennett)
drylands
Drylands:
  • While drylands may conjure up images of unproductive land, the reality is quite the opposite.
  • Drylands are, in fact, a vital source of biological diversity. Medicines, resins, waxes, oils, and other commercial products originate in dryland species. In fact, these species supply one-third of all the plant-derived drugs in the US.
  • Kenya: farmer in cornfield.(IDRC Photo: P. Bennett)
food grains
Food grains:
  • Many of the world’s most important food grains — including wheat, barley, millet, and sorghum — originated in the drylands. 
  • Wildlife, including large mammals and migratory birds, depend on drylands for their habitat.
  • Mali: woman winnowing grain.(IDRC Photo: P. St-Jacques)
the cost of desertification
The cost of desertification:
  • While the United Nations estimates that desertification costs US$42 billion a year, the annual cost to prevent land degradation is estimated at only US$2.4 billion, according to the UN.
  • The human cost is probably not only much higher, but is also impossible to estimate.

Burkina Faso: dry, degraded soil.(IDRC Photo: S. Colvey)

some consequences of desertification
Some consequences of desertification:
  • Desertification exacerbates poverty and political instability;
  • Entire communities suffer from water scarcity and famine;
  • Children (especially girls) cannot attend school because they're forced to walk long distances to get firewood;
  • Millions of people are displaced from their homes, creating severe pressures in the places in which they re-settle;
  • "Environmental refugees" endure extremely difficult living conditions, suffer a loss of cultural identity, and experience an undermining of their social stability;
  • Conflicts between neighbouring countries, even armed conflict, can result.