On a global scale, there is deepening confirmation that the climate is changing, and that word-wide climate change is a factor that is contributing to an increase in volatile and extreme weather patterns the world over. If the planet earth should experience a rise in temperature of just a few degrees over a period of a few years, the water supplies serving inhabited coastal areas on this earth could become at least partly unusable.
This occurs when salt water backs up into the rivers and aquifers of coastal areas when the sea level starts to rise. No civilization can endure for very long when the water supply serving a population is seriously compromised, and when the supply of water to that region is insufficient to support even the natural vegetation and grasslands keeping the surface soil in place, then life in this region yields as it becomes a desert.
The earth’s most significant deserts were formed naturally over a long period of time. Across this time these deserts have increased and decreased in size independent of human intervention. Vast areas of dry sand, remnants of ancient oceans have become stabilized by the establishment of vegetation and trees.
When water is plentiful these grassy plains prevent the margins of the deserts from stretching their boundaries further, when water is scarce, the desert expands. Desertification is the process of degradation of arable land into dry, infertile land. Desertification is caused by a number of conditions and influences including human activity such as over farming and climate change.
Many of the world’s expanding deserts are a result of poor land use practices. Any increase in temperature brought about by climate change could extend the regions of the earth not yet regarded as at risk. The rate of desertification can also accelerate because of the combined effects of wind generated soil erosion, salinization of aquifers, and wild fires that wipe out natural vegetation, and break down the soil quality.
All of this could result in a condition where desertification would likely become irreversible.
Desertification is a major contributor to the world’s environmental and human rights problems including hunger and malnutrition. As a response to this the United Nations has established the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification which is the very first internationally legally binding effort to address the issue of drought and desertification. The Convention seeks to mitigate the effects of drought and desertification with a specific emphasis placed on the African continent.
The U.N. Convention on desertification is predicated on the “principles of participation, partnership and decentralization”, and has as an objective the mitigation of “the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.” At present, there are 194 individual nations that are a party to the Convention. In 2006 the United Nations declared that year as the “International Year of Deserts and Desertification”.
Drought As A Serious Economic Problem
If properly maintained, dry land can contribute to the economic well-being of the earth’s population by serving as a base for cultivation of agriculture and habitation of livestock. Many of our currently fertile lands remain vulnerable to drought, and the people vulnerable to hunger and famine. All are Conditions resulting from unsustainable human activity.
Some important facts to consider:
Of the world’s 5 billion hectares of agriculturally viable dry lands, more than 60% is degraded and subject to desertification. In Africa, over 70% of the dry lands currently in use for growing crops is already degraded and at risk; on the continent of North America, that figure is greater than 70%. Desertification is something that we all need to think about and respect. Our long-term food security depends upon it.