Comment: Why is desertification important?

By Tierney Smith

It is estimated that around one third of the world’s surface is now suffering the effects of desertification, affecting around 1.5 billion people globally.

Each year an estimated 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil is lost in drylands, as drought and desertification turns 12 million hectares of land into man-made deserts.

A study produced in 2007 by the United Nations University suggested climate change is making desertification “the greatest environmental challenge of our times”.

Around one third of the world’s surface is now suffering the effects of desertification (© Giulio Napolitano/FAO)

Africa, a region already feeling the impact of poverty and climate change, is most vulnerable to the phenomenon of desertification. Over 45% of Africa is affected by desertification and 55% of this area is at high or very high risk of further degradation.

In Africa and other countries largely dependant on agricultural production, desertification can reduce agricultural yields and make them much more unpredictable. It therefore affects food security of those living in affected areas.

Often communities affected by desertification develop survival strategies to attend to urgent requirements, which in turn worsen the desertification in the area.

As well as heightening the threat to food supplies, desertification also heightens climatic crises including drought and famine and political crises and can lead to migration.

Desertification Week

As the world gets ready for the Rio+20 Earth Summit, aimed at securing a renewed political commitment to the green economy and sustainable development, as well as addressing new challenges, land degradation and desertification and sustainable land-use will all be key areas of focus.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is calling on the international community, ahead of the Summit, to commit to a future without land degradation.

This week RTCC will be taking a look at desertification through the eyes of those affected and those trying to implement solutions to combat it across the world. Throughout the week:

– We will cross the globe from Africa to Iran to China, and bring you the latest projects aimed at finding solutions to desertification.

– We will look ahead to Rio, and the role desertification might play.

– We will aim to answer the question about how climate change and desertification are entwined and why tackling desertification is so vital to a sustainable future.

If you want to contribute to the week email me at [email protected] or track me down on Twitter @rtcc_tierney.

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