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Desertification – A Worldwide Issue

Desertification has become one of the largest environmental issues across the globe today. Desertification is defined by the United Nations as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities” – these areas are often referred to as drylands. This environmental problem results in land that is not harvestable, and many times, not even inhabitable. Not only has desertification taken farmland from millions of people, it has also taken their homes, forcing them to push back and live in areas that desertification has yet to reach. Additionally, with the drylands comes an increased occurrence of sandstorms, which greatly increases pollution because of vast amounts of dust present in the air. Drylands are present in over one hundred countries, and 44% of the world’s food production takes place in these countries. Desertification has also resulted in great decreases in potential GDP for many countries across the world. It is estimated that GDP “has reduced the gross domestic product of some developing countries by as much as 48%” . Some of the countries who’s GDP has been hit the most because of this environmental issue are; China and many African Countries. The United States has also been a victim of Desertification, however there has not been much stated statistical information regarding loss of GDP in direct correlation with desertification.

There have been many local, national and even global strategies that have been set in place to combat desertification. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) aims to reduce desertification world wide, and continuously informs nations and people what steps should be taken to, hopefully, help put an end to the problem. The organization created a 10-Year Strategy, which was officially adopted in 2007 and has stated goals of, “to forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability” .

The overall economic effects of desertification have been some of the main points of attention in countries that are greatly suffering the consequences of desertification. China, which has been growing as an economic powerhouse in the last decade, has seen great downfall from the issue and has taken many actions to try and mitigate the problem. The mitigation efforts actually began in the 1950’s, and led to the implementation of a number of desertification awareness and reduction programs. Some of these programs include; Three-North Shelterbelt Development Program, National Program on Combating Desertification, Sandification Control Program for Bejing and Tianjin Vicinity, and Croplands to Forests or Grasslands Programs. These high profile programs were launched in between 1978 and 2000. These programs have cost the Chinese government (on average) .024% of their annual GDP and have resulted in bringing some 20% of desertified land under control. This has been a huge development for China and has helped lower the risk that desertification has on decreasing their GDP, however that is not to say it has rid of the risk.

Desertification in China still leads to the loss of an estimated 5,800 miles of grasslands each year. The total amount of desertified land is about 2.6 million square-kilometers, which equates to almost a quarter of the countries total land. This total area stretches across 18 provinces and 400 million people. The total amount spent by the Chinese government, including the .024% of GDP in accordance with the implemented programs totals five billion dollars annually. This includes such actions of direct involvement, and education and informing local inhabitants how they can take steps on their own to help reduce desertification. Fighting the spread of desertification, although costly in the short run, has great potential to increase China’s GDP in the long run. China has incurred great economic losses directly from the desertification present in their country. In 1994, the loss in GDP was estimated at 420.16 billions Yuan (52.52 billion USD) and increased to losses of 700 billion Yuan (87.5 billion USD) in 2000. The overall decrease in Gross Domestic Product in China directly from desertification has the potential to be detrimental to the economy, China being aware of this is taking as many steps they can to help combat the issue. Realizing the negative affects it has not only on the economy, but also on the environment and society as a whole. China will not be able to thrive as the booming country, they have the potential to be, until they are able to significantly decrease the problem of desertification across their country.

China, although greatly effected economically, is only one country among many others who have seen even larger losses directly correlated with increased desertification present on their land. The countries that seem to be suffering the most from this grave problem are countries located in Africa. With two-thirds of Africa’s land, being dryland, they are already at great risk for increased desertification. It is estimated that 71% of Africa’s drylands are impacted by desertification. Without a strong economy, like the economy in China, these countries are suffering greatly. In addition to the effects on the economy, the societies in African countries are severely affected. With and estimated 85% of Sub-Saharan Africans living in rural areas that are “fully depended on land for their livelihoods” the number of people at risk for detrimental losses due to desertification is truly concerning. 485 million Africans, 65% of their total population, are actually already directly affected by desertification. The presence of desertification on these people’s land reduces the ability to use land for croplands, rangelands and woodlands – decreasing the amount of food, fodder and fuel wood that can be produced. In addition, the land that is affected cannot be used for infrastructure, such as canals and reservoirs.

There are many countries that are already suffering great economic losses to desertification, including Madagascar, Ghana and Ethiopia. Madagascar, an island located off the southeastern tip of Africa incurs great costs due to land degradation. These costs were last estimated at 15 percent of their total GDP, equating to 290 million US dollars. Ghana has experienced great productivity losses in crop and livestock, translating to an estimated loss of 5% of their agricultural GDP. Ethiopia has also seen negative effects on their annual agricultural GDP. The loss of nutrients in soil has been estimated to cost the country $106 million annually. In addition they have suffered losses due to deforestation and decrease in livestock capacity – amounting to a total loss in agricultural GDP of about 3% (139 million US dollars). The overall affect on African countries has been very large and has been one of the leading reasons the United Nations and countries around the world are developing programs and goals to help fight and mitigate the issue. With the right tools, knowledge and opportunity, African nations will be able to decrease the losses on society, the environment and the economy, that are due to desertification and land degradation. The United States has been fortunate enough to not incur as high as costs and losses to GDP due to desertification, compared to many developing nations. However, the US has still been affected by desertification and is taking steps to decrease the amount of land lost due to it. In the 1930’s the US first began to observe desertification, when parts of the Great Plains, areas of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, turned into “The Dust Bowl”. This was when the combination of drought and poor farming practices resulted in the desertification of great areas of land, and many dust storms. During the Dust Bowl, millions of people were forced to leave their homes, and livelihood. After the Dust Bowl, the US realized the importance of preventing such an issue and problem to happen again.

Desertification currently affects a large portion of the Western United States, often due to overgrazing by livestock during drought conditions. However, with improved management and awareness of the potential negative effects, the amount of degraded land in this area has decreased. Both governmental and non-governmental agencies are working hard in the United States to provide research methods and opportunities to “improve the sustainability of agricultural and rangeland and forest ecosystems” . Drought, being one of the largest causes of land degradation, is one of the focuses in the forefront for the US government. They have taken steps to set national policies in place to “coordinate response to drought and to seek to minimize its impact” . Local farmers and citizens have also taken their own steps to reduce the amount of desertification on their own land. For example, recently in Colorado, one farmer was beginning to notice a great deal of his land was becoming dry and unsuitable for farming. In response he decided to alter his cattle’s crazing habits, trying to mimic the movements that buffalo made hundreds of years before. He believed that this would help combat his issue because when animals were able to roam naturally, there did not seem to be severe desertification issues. His tactics of new crazing habits were very successful and actually adopted the name “Holistic Management”. Holistic management has increased in popularity and is currently used on 40 million acres worldwide. The United States continues to implement programs and provide knowledge to citizens and local governments in potential desertification areas to help reduce its impacts.

Desertification and land degradation are issues that are greatly affecting millions of people worldwide, yet is not a topic of great knowledge and awareness. As the world’s population continues to grow and the need for agriculture and food cultivation continues to grow with it, the focus on mitigation and prevention of desertification will continue to increase. Many organizations have implemented goals to decrease the issue and help those citizens who are most severely affected by it. The United Nations has taken a stand to help fight the issue and this will help increase the knowledge and importance of the potential risks, worldwide. China, one of the fastest growing economies has one of the society’s that is most greatly affected. African countries, many of which are greatly under developed economically, are taking their own steps to try and mitigate the issue. In many of these countries the prevention efforts are not only done by the government but by local farmers themselves, who already are experiencing the negative side effects. The US has been more successful than others in fighting this issue, but it is still an environmental issue that is present among us. As the time goes on, it seems like desertification will begin to creep further forward into main steam media and news. Desertification seems to be one of the best-kept secrets, but this will not always be the case.

Bibliography

(2009). World day to combat desertification 2009. The World Bank, Retrieved from http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/0,,contentMDK:22214347~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:258644,00.html

(2012). Primer on citizen advocacy and desertification. Global Citizen Iniative. Retrieved from http://www.unccd.int/Lists/SiteDocumentLibrary/Publications/Desertification Primer.pdf

(2012). Primer on citizen advocacy and desertification. Global Citizen Iniative. Retrieved from http://www.unccd.int/Lists/SiteDocumentLibrary/Publications/Desertification Primer.pdf

United nations convention to combat desertification: About the convention. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.unccd.int/en/about-the-convention/Pages/About-the-Convention.aspx

Guoqian, W., Xuequan, W., Bo, W., & Qi, L. (2012). Desertification and Its Mitigation Strategy in China. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 3(2), 97-104.

Bajoria, J., & Zissis, C. (2008). China’s environmental crisis. Council on Foreign Relations, Retrieved from http://www.cfr.org/china/chinas-environmental-crisis/p12608

Jena, M. (2012). China battles desertification. Inter Press Service - News Agency, Retrieved from http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/china-battles-desertification/

Jena, M. (2012). China battles desertification. Inter Press Service - News Agency, Retrieved from http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/china-battles-desertification/

Dogbevi, E. (2009). Desertification devastates african economies, ghana loses 5% of agricultural gdp.Ghana Business News, Retrieved from http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2009/06/21/desertification-devastates-african-economies-ghana-loses-5-of-agricultural-gdp/

(2009). World day to combat desertification 2009. The World Bank, Retrieved from http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/0,,contentMDK:22214347~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:258644,00.html

Us geology survey: Desertification. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/desertification/

(2006). National report on efforts to mitigate desertification in the western united states. Retrieved from New York, NY : United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2006 website: https://docs.google.com/a/sandiego.edu/viewer?a=v&q=cache:yax0ToN5hgoJ:www.unccd-prais.com/Uploads/GetReportPdf/cd202ad5-4142-4ab4-9386-a0fa014a4b40 &hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiDwLf91ZoW4xDU543V-eU0MKG17eoxLPJHgs2LLOIC0q9vu9tmQJFp6R0D8VujNR5hsk-DzNILQBCfmRccQnZyPUUnhQkGoptTbu7E7xturoxZLPvNBpFf7U589cbyxD_l13yA&sig=AHIEtbSrg-WmvVmuET8-uFRqKHC4jm4hyg

(2006). National report on efforts to mitigate desertification in the western united states. Retrieved from New York, NY : United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2006 website: https://docs.google.com/a/sandiego.edu/viewer?a=v&q=cache:yax0ToN5hgoJ:www.unccd-prais.com/Uploads/GetReportPdf/cd202ad5-4142-4ab4-9386-a0fa014a4b40 &hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiDwLf91ZoW4xDU543V-eU0MKG17eoxLPJHgs2LLOIC0q9vu9tmQJFp6R0D8VujNR5hsk-DzNILQBCfmRccQnZyPUUnhQkGoptTbu7E7xturoxZLPvNBpFf7U589cbyxD_l13yA&sig=AHIEtbSrg-WmvVmuET8-uFRqKHC4jm4hyg

Schwartz, J. (2011). Saving us grasslands: a bid to turn back the clock on desertification. The Christian Science Monitor , Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2011/1024/Saving-US-grasslands-a-bid-to-turn-back-the-clock-on-desertification

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