Almost every continent has a dryland region that, if quick preventative actions are not implemented, may soon be threatened by desertification. The most vulnerable regions include grasslands, steppes, prairies, savannahs, shrublands, and forests; you may even be able to recognize them on your own.
Because the local temperature and land usage determine the health of the land, countries affected by desertification need not just be found in hotter parts of the world.
With rising summer temperatures and the less regular and more variable rain patterns, we have been experiencing lately, the risk of losing more land is rising globally, primarily caused by climate change. 90% of the effects of desertification today can be seen in developing nations, primarily in Africa and Asia.
Unfortunately, this process is still threatening the lives of at least 1.5 billion people today, mostly from developing nations.
A third of the Earth’s land surface has been affected by desertification, and it is estimated that another 12 million hectares (about 30 million acres) are converted into arid deserts every year.
Do we have so much open, free land that we don’t need to worry about it?
Let’s examine the origin of it all.
Table of Contents
What is Desertification?
Desertification, often known as “desertization,” is a mix of natural and human-made factors that lowers the productivity of dryland ecosystems (a dry region).
In the simplest terms possible, desertification is the loss of trees and bushes, which leaves the area bare.
“Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid,, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic fluctuations and human activities.”United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
The UNCCD further emphasizes the significance of understanding that desertification, a type of land degradation mostly brought on by human activities in sensitive places, is not a natural process of deserts spreading to new territories.
The loss of land due to desertification has a significant impact on many areas of our world now and is predicted to have an even greater impact on humanity in the future as the population increases and the supply of natural resources decreases.
What are the Major Causes of Desertification?
Although human activity accounts for the majority of desertification, natural occurrences have also been a significant contributor.
There is a list of the main causes of desertification up front.
1. Excess Grazing
For many locations that are beginning to transition into desert biomes, animal grazing poses a serious concern. In areas where there are too many animals overgrazing, it is difficult for the plants to regenerate, which harms the biome and causes it to lose its former lush beauty.
People are part of the challenges associated with desertification when they seek to settle in an area or when they need trees to build houses and do other chores. The other biomes cannot survive without the nearby plants, particularly trees, which bring about deforestation.
3. Unsustainable Farming Methods
The drylands of the earth make up about 40% of the planet’s land area. Despite being extremely delicate and prone to becoming barren, it is obvious that many of these regions are farmed because they are home to more than 2 billion people.
Inconsiderate farming practices, such as intensive tilling, the planting of unsuitable crops, and exposing soils to wind and rain erosion, only have the effect of hastening the desertification process in return for subpar yields.
The natural vegetation that holds the crumbly soil in place is also removed when preparing the land for planting, which allows the final remnants of the productive soil layer to completely wear away in just a few short seasons.
The use of poor irrigation techniques, such as canal irrigation, is another issue with crop farming in sensitive locations. These irrigation techniques frequently cause salt to accumulate in soils.
Because irrigation water mobilizes salt that is already present in these soils, salinity levels rise. Furthermore, the artificial addition of water raises the level of groundwater, which in turn dissolves more salts.
The difficulty of growing crops and other plants in salinized agricultural areas further exacerbates the degradation of these soils.
4. Overuse of Pesticides and Fertilizers
Using excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers to increase crop yields in the near term frequently causes the soil serious harm.
This area may eventually go from arable to arid, and after a few years of intensive cultivation, the soil will have suffered too much damage. As a result, it will no longer be viable for farming.
5. Groundwater Overdrafting
One of the main sources of freshwater is groundwater, which is underground water. Overdraft of groundwater is the process of drawing too much groundwater up from subterranean aquifers or extracting more groundwater than the equilibrium yield of the aquifer that is pumping. Desertification results from its depletion.
6. Urbanization and Tourism
Ecosystems and natural resources, such as forests, must be destroyed to make room for large cities, skyscrapers, vacation locations, and tourist attractions.
We then begin exploring other forests for natural resources. Then, under pristine settings, we begin harvesting forest products from tropical rainforests.
We may be diminishing the area’s resources and making it a candidate for desertification while we’re doing this.
Space is another problem.
On what was previously lush soil with enormous agricultural potential, enormous skyscrapers, residences, and more frequently, commercial developments are now constructed. Agriculture might have been practiced on that land.
The coastlines and riverbanks of countries with hot temperatures like Egypt, Turkey, and Syria are popular tourist destinations. This lessens the likelihood that those lands will be used for agriculture.
Due to increased tourism, desertification is more likely to occur.
7. Climate Change
A significant contributor to desertification is climate change. Desertification is a growing concern as the climate warms and droughts occur more frequently. Huge swathes of land will turn into deserts if climate change is not slowed down; some of those regions may eventually become uninhabitable.
8. Sand and Dust Storms
Numerous consequences of dust storms contribute to the acceleration of desertification.
Crops, nutrient-rich soils, and organic matter are all destroyed by dust storms due to wind erosion. This lowers the farmlands’ agricultural productivity.
For instance, a sizable portion of Iraq’s farmlands has been “swept” away by dust storms.
Dust storms provide temporary water conservation while also shading the land. More crucially, because they trap heat, these dust storms raise land temperatures.
Less rain falls as a result of clouds being driven away by higher temperatures.
Desertification has both causes and effects, including more frequent dust storms. It’s reasonable to assume that they are involved in a vicious circle.
Over the past century, there has been a 25% rise in annual dust emissions due to an expansion in drylands.
More deserts have made it possible for more loose sand to be present. Strong winds can gather loose sand or dust to create sandstorms.
Ailments including pneumonia, asthma, and other allergic reactions are brought on by these dust storms.
9. Soil Pollution
Desertification is largely caused by soil contamination. The majority of plants are quite sensitive to their surroundings in the wild. Long-term desertification may occur in a particular area of land when the soil gets contaminated as a result of numerous human activities.
Over time, the soil will deteriorate more quickly the more pollution there is.
10. Overpopulation and Excessive Consumption
The demand for food and material commodities is rising at an alarming rate due to the ongoing increase in the world’s population. Additionally, our overall consumption is steadily rising.
We must therefore improve our farming practices to produce even better crop yields to meet our needs. However, overoptimizing farming will harm the soil and, in the long term, result in the desertification of the area.
Another significant contributor to desertification is mining. To satisfy our demand for material items, industries must take substantial amounts of resources. Large tracts of land must be exploited for mining, which deforests the area and pollutes the surroundings.
By the time the majority of the natural resources have been depleted and mining operations are no longer economical, the soil has already suffered severe harm, the area has become parched, and desertification has set in.
12. Political Unrest, Poverty, and Famine
These issues can both contribute to and be the cause of desertification. This is because people facing impending famine, extreme poverty, or political instability do not consider sustainable agricultural methods since they are focused on immediately resolving the issue.
Unfortunately, poor land use activities, like grazing animals on rapidly eroding land, illicit logging, and unsustainable crop production, are frequent results of their weakened livelihoods. These behaviors only serve to further degrade the soil and endanger human life.
Effects of Desertification
The following are the effects of desertification
1. Vegetational Damage
Due to desertification, agricultural grounds are unable to support plant growth. The soil’s fertility decreases!
When there is reduced rainfall, the majority of it doesn’t get absorbed by the soil. Rain on arid territory washes away the last of the topsoil layer because there are no plant roots to absorb water. Nutrient pollution is the effect of this.
Some people might believe that more rain might benefit a dry area. No. As a result, there are more floods as runoff volume rises. Overgrazing only serves to hasten this process and worsen plant damage.
2. Falling Crop Yields
The decline in crop output is one of the desertification’s most significant effects. The land is frequently no longer suited for farming after it transitions from being arable to being dry.
As a result, since many farmers rely completely on farming as their only source of income, many of them risk losing their livelihood. If their land becomes dry, they might no longer be able to produce enough food harvests to support themselves.
3. Food Scarcity
Population expansion and desertification-related loss of agricultural lands pose threats to global food security.
There is an increasing need for food. There will be more people going hungry and there won’t be enough food for everyone if fertile regions that produce that food are lost.
Some nations are now forced to rely on other nations to supply their food needs. For instance, more than half of Europe’s food imports come from Brazil, the United States, and Norway.
60% of the world’s food demand is met by nations (and other nations) that cultivate it on dryland farms.
These arid plains are on the verge of becoming deserts. If we continue with unsustainable farming methods, we will soon lose them.
4. Loss of Productive Land
The topsoil, or topmost soil layer, is entirely removed during the desertification process.
The soil’s topmost layer is the most fruitful. For plants to flourish, it contains vital nutrients and minerals including phosphorus and nitrates.
Additionally, this topsoil layer is the most effective at absorbing water from rainfall. The removal of the top layer causes the ground to dry up and makes it difficult for it to adequately absorb water.
The soil becomes saltier when poor, unsustainable agricultural practices are used. This reduces the soil’s capacity to grow crops with high yields, especially when combined with incorrect irrigation techniques.
This land eventually becomes a lifeless, arid wasteland due to desertification.
5. Worsening Erosion
In addition to being a result of desertification, erosion also encourages further desertification.
The soil is more prone to erosion when there is no vegetation cover. When there are no crops to store soil nutrients, rain makes it easier for them to run off!
This devastates nearby productive land, increasing the likelihood that it will become a desert. Winds can further sweep away weakened soil, eradicating the final tracts of fertile land.
Trees that were cut down for various reasons exposed the land to rapid soil erosion. One of the final processes in the process of desertification is soil erosion.
6. Exposure to Natural Disasters
The ability of a region to survive climatic changes and, more significantly, natural disasters are compromised by desertification.
This is because desertification weakens the ability of the natural ecosystem to tolerate these weather variations.
Because there are no plans to support the soil and stop runoff, it is simpler for the soil to erode and lose its fertility.
Flooding can occur in deserts or on any other type of arid land. In wet deserts, there is a lot of water and not enough vegetation to block the water from flowing.
Flood water can pick up different contaminants as it passes through vegetation, urban areas, wastelands, and agricultural grounds. Even the nearby soil can be harmed by these contaminants when they are absorbed there.
Sandstorms are another problem since numerous contaminants can be carried by the wind over great distances and pollute other locations.
7. Water Pollution
Different roles exist for plants in an environment. In particular, they serve as water filters, lowering the number of contaminants in the water.
These contaminants in the water could harm the soil. Additionally, this might contaminate sources of drinking water.
As a result, one of the main negative effects of desertification on people is water contamination! Threatened food security might be the only other issue.
They serve as locations for water filtering, as well as reducing the amount of water that runs off into rivers and facilitating simple infiltration of water into the soil.
Because barren soil cannot purify water, contaminants can infiltrate groundwater reserves or surface-water reserves.
You might even get this runoff in your drinking water!
Therefore, be sure to choose the most eco-friendly water filters available.
Additionally, erosion makes it possible for water to absorb soil. Due to eutrophication and enhanced sedimentation processes, this has an impact on aquatic and marine ecosystems.
Animals and people will go to other locations where they can genuinely thrive as places start to turn into deserts. This leads to overcrowding and overpopulation, which will ultimately result in the continuation of the cycle of desertification that began the whole thing in the first place.
If not addressed, every one of the problems we’ve discussed thus far (connected to the topic of desertification) could result in poverty. People struggle to survive without food and water, and it takes them a long time to try and get what they need.
10. Loss of Biodiversity
In general, habitat loss and desertification can both lead to a decline in biodiversity. While some species might be able to successfully adapt to the changed climatic conditions, many others won’t be able to, and some may even see catastrophic population reductions.
Due to desertification, certain species’ populations are declining, putting them at risk of going extinct. Since there may not be enough animals or plants left after a certain period, this dilemma is particularly serious for species that are already in danger of extinction.
Numerous animals and plants frequently lose their habitats as a result of desertification. The local flora and fauna’s living conditions may change as a result of desertification, making it hard for plants and animals to support their populations.
Due to water shortages brought on by climate change after desertification, animals may suffer and even perish. Water is essential to all life on Earth.
11. Social and Economic Impacts
The natural ecology is entirely devastated and unsuitable for supporting any sort of life as desertification takes hold.
The land is unable to grow high-yield crops since the soil is no longer fertile. Famine results in certain areas due to a lack of sufficient crops being produced by the scarce fertile land.
Widespread starvation is a result of the desertification of Africa, particularly as a result of arid weather.
Farmers struggle to make a living to support their families because they are unable to plant crops due to the barren soil.
This leads them to seek out other unconventional means of making money. As we all know, in today’s world, this is already a challenge, especially for those who lack education.
Syria has destroyed the lives of farmers and Bedouins (desert-dwelling people). Another instance of desertification is in Syria.
Vegetation has been lost as a result of uncontrolled overgrazing. The country is now essentially desert-like because the soil is no longer productive.
These causes are what started the nation’s ongoing civil conflict. Additionally, this causes significant migration movements.
12. Results in Historical Civilizational Collapse
Numerous historical sources describe how different people groups throughout human history saw their civilizations collapse as a result of drought and desertification on their lands.
The explanation is straightforward: people were no longer able to grow food, the water supply became limited, and their animals became feeble from a lack of nourishment.
These unfortunate occurrences are closely related to people’s health. People turn against one another when their livelihoods are threatened, which starts a chain reaction of events that eventually causes the collapse.
The Carthage Civilization, the Harappan Civilization, ethnic groups in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and ethnic groupings in Ancient China are a few examples of civilizations that perished as a result of droughts.
Among the things that can be taken to stop desertification is a focus on water management.
Reforestation and tree regeneration, buttressing the soil with the use of sand fences, shelter belts, woodlots, and windbreaks, and improving and hyper-fertilizing the soil through planting are all necessary.
Rainwater harvesting must be done, and water that can be reused must not be left out as waste. Fields can be mulched with the leftovers from clipped trees to increase soil water retention and decrease evaporation.
- 10 Steps to Disaster Preparedness
- 9 Deadly Environmental Disasters Caused By Humans
- Top 10 Effects of Melting Glaciers on the Environment
- Top 10 Effects of Gasoline on the Environment
- 14 Effects of Radiation on the Human Body & Environment
A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.