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Foldout Desertification

Foldout Desertification

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Published by Still Rage

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Published by: Still Rage on Jun 27, 2013
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is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems. It threatens the livelihoods of someof the poorest and most vulnerable populations on theplanet. Desertification is largely caused by unsustainableuse of scarce resources. What options exist to avoid orreverse desertification and its negative impacts?
Summary written by GreenFacts
Facts on Desertification
 A Summary of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Desertification Synthesis
What is desertification?
Desertification is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems byvariations in climate and human activities. Home to a third of the humanpopulation in 2000, drylands occupy nearly half of Earth’s land area.Across the world, desertification affects the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on the benefits that dryland ecosystems can provide.In drylands, water scarcity limits the production of crops, forage, wood,and other services ecosystems provide to humans. Drylands are thereforehighly vulnerable to increases in human pressures and climatic variability,especially sub-Saharan and Central Asian drylands.Some 10 to 20% of drylands are already degraded, and ongoingdesertification threatens the world’s poorest populations and theprospects of poverty reduction. Therefore, desertification is one of thegreatest environmental challenges today and a major barrier to meetingbasic human needs in drylands.
How are desertification and human well-being linked?
In drylands, more people depend on ecosystem services for their basic needsthan in any other ecosystem. Indeed, many of their resources, such as crops,livestock, fuelwood, and construction materials, depend on the growth of plants, which in turn depends on water availability and climate conditions.Fluctuations in the services supplied by ecosystems are normal,especially in drylands, where water supply is irregular and scarce.However, when a dryland ecosystem is no longer capable to recover fromprevious pressures, a downward spiral of desertification may follow,though it is not inevitable.Desertification affects a wide range of services provided by ecosystems tohumans: products such as food and water, natural processes such asclimate regulation, but also non-material services such as recreation, andsupporting services such as soil conservation. Changes can be quantifiedand methods are available to prevent, reduce, or reverse them.When faced with desertification, people often respond by making use of land that is even less productive, transforming pieces of rangeland intocultivated land, or moving towards cities or even to other countries. Thiscan lead to unsustainable agricultural practices, further land degradation,exacerbated urban sprawl, and socio-political problems.
Desertification affects the livelihoods of millions of people, as it occurson all continents (except Antarctica).
Desertification takes place in drylands all over the world. Some 10 to 20%of all drylands may already be degraded, but the precise extent of desertification is difficult to estimate, because few comprehensiveassessments have been made so far.A large majority of dryland populations live in developing countries.Compared to the rest of the world, these populations lag far behind interms of human well-being, per capita income, and infant mortality. Thesituation is worst in the drylands of Asia and Africa. Dryland populationsare often marginalized and unable to play a role in decision makingprocesses that affect their well-being, making them even more vulnerable.Desertification has environmental impacts that go beyond the areasdirectly affected. For instance, loss of vegetation can increase theformation of large dust clouds that can cause health problems in moredensely populated areas, thousands of kilometers away. Moreover, thesocial and political impacts of desertification also reach non-drylandareas. For example, human migrations from drylands to cities and othercountries can harm political and economic stability.
Desertification affects the world’s most vulnerable populations.Desertification processes can lead to the formation of large dust cloudsthat affect air quality and cause health problems thousands of kilometresaway (Xinlinhot, China)
Who is affected by desertification?
Population growth and increased food demand are expected to drivethe expansion and intensification of land cultivation in drylands. If nocountermeasures are taken, desertification in drylands will threatenfuture improvements in human well-being and possibly reverse gains insome regions.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment developed four plausiblescenarios to explore the future of desertification and human well-beinguntil 2050 and beyond. The different scenarios are based on eitherincreased globalization or increased regionalization, each combined witheither a reactive or proactive way of addressing environmental issues.In all four scenarios, the desertified area is expected to increase, thoughnot at the same pace. Poverty and unsustainable land use practices willcontinue to be the main factors driving desertification in the near future,and climate change will also play a role.Local adaptation and conservation practices can mitigate some losses of dryland services, but it will be difficult to reverse losses in terms of biodiversity and in the provision of food and water which is linked tobiodiversity. Freshwater scarcity, which already affects 1-2 billion peopleglobally, is expected to increase, causing greater stresses in drylandsand ultimately a worsening of desertification.The implementation of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD) would be particularly difficult in a regionalized-reactive world (Orderfrom strength scenario), while prospects would improve in a more globalizedworld with proactive ecosystem management (TechnoGarden scenario).
What are the major causes of desertification?
Desertification is caused by a combination of social, political,economic, and natural factors which vary from region to region.
Policies that can lead to an unsustainable use of resources and lack of infrastructures are major contributors to land degradation. Agriculturecan play either a positive or a negative role, depending on how it ismanaged. Policies favoring sedentary farming over nomadic herding inregions more suited to grazing can contribute to desertification.The process of globalization both contributes to desertification and helpsprevent it. Studies have shown that, in some cases, trade liberalization,economic reforms, and export-oriented production in drylands canpromote desertification. In other cases, enlarged markets outside of thedrylands also contribute to successful agricultural improvements.Historically, dryland livelihoods have been based on a mixture of hunting,gathering, farming, and herding. This mixture varied with time, place, andculture, since the harsh conditions forced people to be flexible in landuse. Population growth has led to the extension of cultivated lands andthe irrigation of these lands has brought about desertification, as well asother environmental problems.
How would different development paths influence desertification in the future?
Map: “Present-day Drylands and their categoriesSerious erosion is threatening a farmer’s land

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