Land Degradation


One quarter of the earth's land is threatened by desertification, according to estimates by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The livelihoods of over 1 billion people in more than 100 countries are also jeopardized by desertification, as farming and grazing land becomes less productive.

Desertification does not mean that deserts are steadily advancing or taking over neighbouring land. As defined by the United Nations Convention, desertification is a process of "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities". Patches of degraded land may develop hundreds of kilometres from the nearest desert. But these patches can expand and join together, creating desert-like conditions. Desertification contributes to other environmental crises, such as the loss of biodiversity and global warming.

Drought often triggers desertification, but human activities are usually the most significant causes. Over-cultivation exhausts the soil. Overgrazing removes vegetation that prevents soil erosion. Trees that bind the soil together are cut for lumber or firewood for heating and cooking. Poorly drained irrigation turns crop-land salty, desertifying 500,000 hectares annually, about the same amount of soil that is newly irrigated each year.

Significant underlying causes include social and economic factors in developing countries, such as poverty, high population growth rates, unequal land distribution, refugee flows, modernization that disrupts traditional farming practices, and government policies that encourage the growing of cash crops on marginal land to pay off foreign debts.

Life on earth depends on the layer of soil that is the source of nutrients for plants, crops, forests, animals and people. Without it, ultimately none can survive. Although topsoil takes a long time to build up, if mistreated it can vanish in just a few seasons due to erosion by wind and water.

The economic problem

If properly cared for, drylands can contribute significantly to economic growth by serving as a base for agriculture, grazing and human habitation and activity. Yet these areas are vulnerable to drought and the results of unsustainable human activity.

Political and social problems

In addition to its negative economic and environmental impacts, desertification is partially responsible for population migration. Although no one knows for sure how many people have had to abandon their land when it turned to dust, it appears to be in the millions. One sixth of the population of Mali and Burkina Faso has already been uprooted because of desertification. It is also a factor in the immigration of Mexicans into the United States.

Poverty forces poor people to wring as much as possible from the land in order to feed, house and warm their families. Unfortunately, over-cultivation, deforestation and other unsustainable practices degrade the land, forcing people to look elsewhere to support themselves. Poor people are highly vulnerable to the effects of weather, as drought can cause famine, while good rains can cause precipitous drops in crop prices. Politically, the poor are also vulnerable, often relegated to the most marginal land.

Desertification has played a part in armed conflict in arid lands, having contributed to political instability, starvation and social breakdown in places such as Somalia.

To respond to the great Sahelian drought and famine of 1968-1974, in which over 200,000 people and millions of their animals died, the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office was established. It was originally set up to assist nine drought-prone countries in West Africa and was subsequently expanded to cover 22 countries south of the Sahara and north of the equator.

The United Nations first addressed the issue on a global scale at the United Nations Conference on Desertification, held in Nairobi in 1977. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Land Degradation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.