Desertification, drought, and poverty create a scenario of misery and insecurity across the drylands of Africa and Asia. According to the UN’s Secretariat for the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 250 million people have already been harmed by desertification, and another 750 million are at risk.
Desertification creates a downward spiral of lost productivity that has ramifications far beyond these areas, including refugee flights, social alienation and conflict, damage to global freshwater and marine resources, and atmospheric pollution. In a recent survey carried out by the International Council for Science (UNEP State of 2000 Report) on environmental issues that would require attention in the 21st century, desertification and deforestation ranked third out of 37 issues identified. Income lost due to desertification amounts to approximately US$42 billion globally.
There are many factors that trigger desertification, including the unpredictable effects of drought, fragile soils and geological erosion, livestock pressures, nutrient mining, growing populations, inadequate/ambiguous property and tenure rights, landlessness and an inequitable distribution of assets, poor infrastructure and market access, neglect by policy makers and agricultural and environmental research systems, and the failure of markets to reward the supply of environmental services. Given this complexity of causal factors, an integrated approach including broad stakeholder participation is essential if peoples’ livelihoods – and security needs – are to be improved.