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Impacts of desertification

We have already discussed desertification and its causes in a previous issue. This week we will tell you about the impacts of desertification and the regions affected by it.

Desertification affects all aspects of life, highlighting how much the environment and livelihoods are interlinked.

Environmental impacts

Because of the vegetation loss, desertification makes areas more flood-prone. It also causes the salt level in the soil to rise, resulting in deteriorating quality of water, and silting of rivers, streams and reservoirs.

Economic impacts

Desertification has huge economic consequences - the World Bank estimates that at the global level, the annual income foregone in the areas affected by desertification amounts to US$ 42 billion each year, while the annual cost of fighting land degradation would cost only US$ 2.4 billion a year.

Poverty and mass migration

Land degradation brings hunger and poverty. People living in areas threatened by desertification are forced to move elsewhere to find other means of livelihood. Usually, they migrate towards urban areas or go abroad.

Mass migration is a major consequence of desertification. From 1997 to 2020, some 60 million people are expected to move from the desertified areas in Sub-Saharan Africa towards Northern Africa and Europe.

Most threatened regions

In all, more than 110 countries have drylands that are potentially threatened by desertification. Africa, Asia and Latin America are the most threatened by desertification.


Two thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands. There are extensive agricultural drylands, almost three quarters of which are already degraded to some degree. The region is afflicted by frequent and severe droughts. Many African countries depend heavily on natural resources for subsistence.

Africa's desertification is strongly linked to poverty, migration, and food security.


Asia contains some 1.7 billion hectares of arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid land, reaching from the Mediterranean coast to the shores of the Pacific.

Degraded areas include expanding deserts in China, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan, the sand dunes of Syria, the steeply eroded mountain slopes of Nepal, and the deforested and overgrazed highlands of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. In terms of the number of people affected by desertification and drought, Asia is the most severely affected continent.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Although better known for their rainforests, Latin America and the Caribbean are actually about one-quarter desert and drylands.

Poverty and pressure on land resources are causing land degradation in many of these dry areas.

Other regions and countries affected by desertification

Much of the Northern Mediterranean region is semi-arid, and subject to seasonal droughts. It is also marked by high population densities, heavy concentrations of industry, and intensive agriculture. Mediterranean land degradation is often linked to poor agricultural practices.

The level of soil degradation is high through much of Central and Eastern Europe, and very high in some parts, for example along the Adriatic.

What we can do

Restore and fertilise the land - A simple and cheap way to fertilise the land is to prepare compost that will become humus and will regenerate (give life to) the soil with organic matter.

Combat the effects of the wind - By constructing barriers and stabilising sand dunes with local plant species.

Reforestation - Trees play several roles: they help fix the soil, act as wind-breakers, enhance soil fertility, and help absorb water during heavy rainfall.

Because the burning of land and forests increases dangerous greenhouse gases, afforestation - planting new trees - can help reduce the negative impacts of resulting climate change.

Develop sustainable agricultural practices - Drylands are home to a large variety of species, that can also become important commercial products: for example, they provide one third of the plant-derived drugs in the United States.

Agriculture biodiversity must be preserved. Land over-exploitation shall be stopped by letting the soil 'breathe' during a certain-time period, with no cultivation, nor livestock grazing.

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