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World's dry regions set to expand

Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2005/06/17 10:35:15 GMT


Desertification is a growing menace that puts at risk global efforts to tackle poverty and hunger, a new report from a coalition of scientists states.

The group says bad crop management and the misuse of irrigation in a number of regions is putting unsustainable pressure on dryland areas.

The UN-led team estimates that 10-20% of drylands are already degraded.

They warn that unless practices change these areas will become unproductive, blighting the lives of millions.

Their report is called Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Desertification Synthesis. It is the latest document produced by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) project.

This $22m, four-year study by 1,300 experts from 95 countries has been described as the most detailed "green healthcheck" yet on the state of the planet.

In the case of drylands, preventing their degradation into deserts is an immense global problem, say the authors.

"Given the size of population in drylands, the number of people affected by desertification is likely larger than any other contemporary environmental problem," they write.

Dust storms

Drylands cover 41% of the planet's land surface, and are growing. They are home to over two billion people, including the world's most impoverished, in areas such as central Asia and northern Africa.

One of the biggest problems is that as land dries up, it becomes unsuitable for farming. This exacerbates poverty and creates environmental refugees.

The authors estimate that hundreds of thousands of people will be in need of new homes and lifestyles over the next 30 years as the Earth dries up.

The effects are also felt far beyond the desert areas themselves. Dust storms from the Gobi Desert in Asia and the African Sahara are responsible for respiratory problems as far away as North America, says the report.

Co-author Professor Uriel Safriel, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says population pressure and bad land management practices are the cause of degradation.

"The process of desertification starts from direct impact of people by transforming range lands to cultivated lands that cannot be covered by protective vegetation cover during the whole year," he told BBC News.

"In the dry season, they become bare, their soil then is not protected from the wind or from floods and erodes or becomes dust."

Better management of crops, more careful irrigation and strategies to provide non-farming jobs for people living in drylands could help address the problem. But it is easier to prevent desertification than to reverse it, says the report.


The ends of the Earth


Thursday March 31, 2005

The Guardian

Anyone wanting a vision of how the world might look in 50 years' time can today go and stand on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. On the Dominican side they will see a lush, heavily wooded countryside, the result of careful conservation efforts and some brutal action taken against illegal loggers. On the Haitian side of the border, they will see an ecological disaster, of massive soil erosion and deforestation, the result of extreme poverty, government breakdown and the chaos that comes with protracted civil disturbance. The dichotomic starkness of the landscapes facing the viewer is similar to the choices we now face towards the world's environment, based on scenarios painted by a highly credible report issued yesterday under the auspices of the UN: the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, the work of 1,300 scientists in 95 countries over the past four years.

Article continues

To be clear: this assessment does not simply begin and end with the arguable (to some, although not to this newspaper) effects of global warming or climate change. It deals more with the impact of the Earth's one species of mammal that has contributed more poison and done more damage to the planet than any other. In the last 50 years, it reports, the human race has drawn heavily on the Earth's natural resources - so much so that in some areas the planet is in danger of becoming overdrawn, leaving our descendants to pay an environmental debt that will dwarf the pensions crisis, and reverse all of the best efforts to lift the world's poor out of poverty.

The report's details are the stuff of nightmares. The effects are slow and often uncertain in their impact. But, as always, the question remains as to what is to be done. Unhelpfully, the assessment is not clear enough on how to protect the remaining ecosystems. It does have some useful suggestions, such as the need to include environmental indicators in a country's national accounts, treating ecosystems as resources as vital as education or health infrastructure. But more important is the need for action to at least preserve what we have now. None of the major parties in the coming general election is promising the sort of dramatic policies that will be required, such as tough and tougher carbon emission targets, tax incentives for households and businesses to use sustainable energy sources, or to abolish the unnecessary farm subsidies that are the expensive relic of a bygone age. Technology and incremental, voluntary lifestyle change will not be enough, as our grandchildren will surely remind us one day.

Strains on Nature Are Growing, Report Says


Published: March 31, 2005

OSLO, March 30 - Humans are damaging the planet at a rapid rate and raising risks of abrupt collapses in nature that could spur disease, deforestation or "dead zones" in the seas, an international report said Wednesday.

The study, by 1,360 researchers in 95 nations, the biggest review of the planet's life support systems ever, said that in the last 50 years a rising human population had polluted or overexploited two-thirds of the ecological systems on which life depends, including clean air and fresh water. "At the heart of this assessment is a stark warning," said the 45-member board of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. "Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted."

The report said future strains on nature could bring sudden outbreaks of disease. Warming of the Great Lakes in Africa from climate change, for instance, could create conditions for a spread of cholera.

The study urged changes in consumption, better education, new technology and higher prices for exploiting ecosystems.