Desertification, the degradation of once fertile land into barren wasteland, is a growing problem affecting regions worldwide. In this blog, we explore three examples of desertification and the efforts being made to combat them. From the Sahel region of Northern Africa to the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China and the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, we examine the human and climatic factors contributing to desertification and the measures being taken to prevent it. Read on to discover more about these three desertification examples and the importance of sustainable land management.
The Sahel region is a strip of land that stretches from one side of northern Africa to the other. It is bordered by the Sahara Desert to the north and by the rich savannahs and rainforests of Central and Western Africa to the south. It experiences a rather dry, semi-arid climate, with a brief two-month wet season; however, the occurrence of long droughts coupled with systematic over-exploitation of the land makes this one of the world’s most alarming desertification examples. A drought between 1968 and 1993 contributed to the degradation of vast swathes of soil and vegetation, forming an incredibly large area of barren land. However, overgrazing and agricultural practices within the region, which had been promoted by many national governments, also played a large part. In 2007, 11 African governments launched the Great Green Wall of Africa as an attempt to mitigate the problem. This initiative aimed to plant a 15-kilometre-wide and 8,000-kilometre-long plant barrier along the northern edge of the Sahel, with the aim of preventing the Sahara from expanding southwards.
The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region is located in northern China. Sandwiched between the Tenggeli, Wulanbu and Maowusu Deserts, it is no surprise that Ningxia Hui has already seen desertification on an alarming scale, with just over half of its area having already been devoured by deserts. Like in the Sahel, a combination of human and climatic factors is to blame for this, and the threat has not gone away. An additional 1.2 million hectares of grassland, as well as 132,000 hectares of farmland, are under threat from desertification. Agriculture and pockets of viniculture bring prosperity to the region, and the non-desert land in the region forms part of a barrier between the desert north and the humid south – therefore, it is important to prevent any future desertification. This is one of the desertification examples which has seen a reduction in the encroachment of deserts. A 2012 World Bank project has been largely successful in restoring vegetation cover, which has increased by around 40% and has kept the dunes in place. Alternative farming practices have also been deployed, including an effort to reduce levels of grazing.
Read more: Preventing desertification: Top 5 success stories
The Murray-Darling basin covers a vast area of eastern and south-eastern Australia. Located to the east of a vast area of aridity that covers much of Australia and largely within a semi-arid area susceptible to long droughts, desertification is a large issue within the region. It is home to 2 million people, contributes around 10 billion Australian dollars to the economy, and provides a habitat to countless animal species, some of which are endangered. Climatic factors have contributed massively to the region's desertification via long droughts such as the so-called ‘Big Dry’ that lasted from 1996 to 2012. However, as with the other desertification examples, human factors are also an issue. Overgrazing and soil degradation, as well as the salinisation of the soil, are large additional contributors, all of which stem mainly from inappropriate farming practices. Billions of dollars have already been spent in order to remediate such farming practices with a degree of success.
Read more: What is sustainable land management?
In conclusion, these examples of desertification illustrate the devastating consequences of human activities and climate change on our planet. It is imperative that we take action to combat desertification and other environmental issues by implementing sustainable land management practices and planting trees. Trees play a vital role in preventing desertification by stabilising soil, reducing erosion, and providing shade and nutrients to other plants. Let us work together to protect our planet and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.
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