World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought Special

Painted Desert, AZPhoto:
Image: shellorz

Today, on UN World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, we want to take a look at the causes of desertification and its effects. Dust storms, for example, affect most regions of the earth, causing more than just economic damage. Desertification and drought is a far reaching, large-scale problem that will require simple, small-scale solutions sooner rather than later. Let’s see what we can do.

Encroaching – the Sahara desert:
Sahara desertPhoto:
Image: NASA

Poor land use and population pressures are said to be the main causes of desertification around the world. Overgrazing, overdrafting of groundwater and the diversion of water from rivers, lakes and other water sources for human and industrial uses spread desertification further.

Rapid population growth has put enormous pressure on agriculture. In many places this has resulted in unsustainable farming practices and overgrazing because of increasing livestock numbers that leave formerly farmable land barren and exhausted, with top soil ready to be blown away by strong winds.

Run! A dust storm brewing:
Dust stormPhoto:
Image: Lindsey Brown

Ferocious dust storms bringing with them millions of tons of sand and blackening the sky have sadly become annual phenomena in all regions of the world bordering the big deserts: The Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang regularly get swept by dust storms coming from the Gobi desert in March and April; the Sahara is claiming parts of Ghana and Nigeria at the rate of 3,510 sq km per year; and in the Middle East, whole villages get buried by dust storms.

A dust storm over the Middle East as seen from space:
dust storm over Middle EastPhoto:
Image: NASA

Below is a picture of the Gobi desert taken from Space on March 14, 2009 during the big dust storm that hovered over the Beijing region in mid-March of this year. Two streams of dust can be seen, one skirting the Mongolian border and the other over the Quilian Mountain range.

Dust storms over the Gobi desert as seen from space:
Gobi desert storm from spacePhoto:
Image: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA

Even cities are not safe – dust storm over Melbourne:
Melbourne in a dust stormPhoto:
Image via Envirowarrior

With growing deserts, shrinking water resources, rising global temperatures and shrinking sizes of farmable land, the picture is indeed a grim one. Overpopulation is a complex problem that does not have one patent solution but will require long-term grassroots efforts. The key seems to be simple yet creative solutions at the community level. China, for example, is creating a 4,500 km (2,800 mi) long forest belt to control sandstorms and to stop the advancing sands of the Gobi desert.

China’s forest zones will not only stop desertification but also produce biofuels:
Forest belt in ChinaPhoto:
Image via Biopact

The African Union is currently looking for funds for a similar solution to stop the advancing Sahara desert. Spain has gone back to 1,000-year-old Moorish irrigation systems with tremendous success as a low-tech solution.

Rice and sugar cane fields in Spain’s Albufera region, irrigated like 1,000 years ago:
Moorish irrigation in SpainPhoto:
Image via Sambali

Across the globe, cheap and fuel-efficient ‘rocket stoves’ and solar cookers could replace traditional wood stoves, therefore reducing the strain on forests as providers of fire wood.

What’s cooking? A parabolic solar cooker:
Solar cookerPhoto:
Image via Humboldt State University

What effective local methods do you know of that have combated desertification successfully? Let us know.

Source: 1, 2, 3

We’ll even throw in a free album.