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9. Conclusion: Main findings

    Children from Serdah village at the Khanasser valley in Syria.
    Children from Serdah village at the Khanasser valley in Syria
    Source: MA

    Desertification is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems. It affects the livelihoods of millions of people. In 2000, drylands, which occupy 41% of Earth’s land area, were home to a third of the human population. A significant portion of drylands are already degraded, and the ongoing desertification threatens the world’s poorest populations and hinders the prospects of reducing poverty. Therefore, desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges today. It is a major barrier to meeting basic human needs in drylands and leads to losses in terms of human well-being.

    The causes of desertification include social, political, economic, and climatic factors that contribute to an unsustainable use of scarce natural resources. The magnitude and impacts of desertification vary greatly from place to place and change over time. Furthermore, wide gaps remain in our understanding and monitoring of desertification processes, gaps which sometimes prevent cost-effective actions in affected areas.

    Outside of drylands, desertification also has strong adverse impacts, for example by increasing the occurrence of dust storms which affect areas thousands of kilometers away from the desertified areas and can cause political and social problems because of human migrations.

    Depending on the degree of dryness of a region, desertification can be prevented and dryland ecosystems restored through specific interventions and adaptations. On the whole, prevention is a much more effective way to cope with desertification, because later attempts to rehabilitate desertified areas are costly and tend to deliver limited results.

    The four scenarios developed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment to explore the future of desertification and human well-being in drylands show that total desertified area is likely to increase, and that the relief of pressures on drylands is strongly linked to poverty reduction. The scenarios also show that proactive management approaches will probably be the most effective in coping with desertification. On the whole, combating desertification yields multiple local and global benefits and helps mitigate biodiversity loss and human-induced global climate change. Environmental management approaches aiming to combat desertification, mitigate climate change, and conserve biodiversity are interlinked in many ways. Therefore, joint implementation of major environmental conventions can lead to increased synergy and effectiveness, benefiting dryland populations.

    Effectively dealing with desertification will help reduce global poverty, and is essential for meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Dryland populations must have access to viable alternatives in order to be able to maintain their livelihoods without causing desertification. These alternatives should be embedded in national strategies to reduce poverty and combat desertification. More...

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