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Desertification in the environment

Desertification in the environment


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By Cristian Frers

To control desertification, it is essential that human societies learn again what they learned for the first time thousands of years ago, that is, that social and cultural life is only possible in dry areas if it is capable of developing an economy that is in harmony with nature, adapted to the conditions of the place.


The Earth is covered by a fragile layer of soil that has formed very slowly, but can be swept away by the wind or washed away in a few years. This is what is happening in many areas. Nowhere is the problem more serious than in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones, which represent more than a third of the earth's surface. Desertification is a process by which the affected lands lose their productive capacity. Land degradation is often linked to food security and poverty, in a cause and effect relationship.

It is no coincidence that our planet is called Earth. All life on earth depends on the fragile and friable crust of the soil that lines the continents. Without it, living beings would never have left the oceans: there would be no plants, no crops, no forests, no animals ... no men.

Desertification is a very modern word, and it reflects the clear perception of a reality that has always been there, but having not noticed it, it was for us humans, as if it did not exist. It was precisely the science that studies the habitat, ecology, which drew our attention to the phenomenon of the progressive desertification of the planet.

This problem is a global phenomenon, which affects all continents, originating cross-border and transcontinental movements, which forces the original population of these regions, marginalized by poverty and environmental degradation, to seek better living conditions in cities, in other regions and other countries, where it is very possible that later, tensions on social and natural environments will arise.

The three main causes of desertification are overgrazing, deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices. Overgrazing and deforestation destroy the protective vegetation layer that covers arid and semi-arid regions, making it possible for water and wind erosion to decapitate the fertile upper layers of the soil. Unsustainable agricultural practices remove nutrients from the soil, salinizing it, drying it out, compacting it or sealing its surface and causing the accumulation of toxic substances.

Desertification and drought seriously threaten the livelihoods of more than 1.2 billion people around the world, who depend on the land for most of their needs. These phenomena undermine the productivity of the land and the health and prosperity of populations in more than 110 countries.

The main socio-economic indicators for the Latin American region are:

1) The degradation of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid lands constitutes one of the greatest global environmental problems of today.

2) About a quarter of the surface of Latin America is made up of areas susceptible to desertification.

3) Most of the population living in desertified areas are poor. Poverty and pressure on natural resources cause land degradation.

The Argentine Republic occupies more than 80% of its territory with agricultural, livestock and forestry activities, generating a significant impact on the base of its natural resources, which is currently expressed with more than 60,000,000 hectares subject to erosive processes of moderate to severe. 650,000 ha are added each year, with varying degrees of erosion.


The inhabitants of arid zones face very serious problems of land tenure, title disputes, absenteeism, smallholdings and large estates, which together with the low value of primary production and the difficulties of marketing, generate poverty and migration. Many of the Argentine provincial states have average per capita incomes lower than the national average, and the percentages of households with unsatisfied basic needs are double the national average. Serious problems such as absenteeism, low value of primary production, difficulties in marketing and few productive alternatives, put pressure on the desertification processes, causing problems of marginalization and exclusion in the periphery of large cities.

The deterioration process is aggravated by macroeconomic and sectoral policies that favor the export orientation, favoring the concentration and exploitation of natural resources in an unsustainable way. Added to this situation is the fact that traditional producers and smallholders lack a protection or promotion policy, so current conditions overexploit resources as a survival strategy.

About a third of the 37 million Argentines live in dry areas and from these comes half of the country's agricultural and livestock production. It is noteworthy that the dry areas are the poorest areas of the territory. Massive felling of natural forests, overgrazing or burning of steppe vegetation, and the use of inadequate tillage and irrigation techniques have resulted in a decline in plant cover and soil fertility, and ultimately, erosion and salinization.

The fight against desertification involves all activities that are part of an integrated use of the land of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones for sustainable development and that are aimed at preventing or reducing land degradation, the rehabilitation of partially degraded lands, and the recovery of deserted lands.

Desertification represents an obstacle to sustainable development, since it is closely related to poverty, food insecurity and overexploitation of the land resource, specifically in dry areas, where degradation and excessive use of forests are some of the main causes of soil degradation.

The media often highlight the great advance of desertification in Argentina or the increasing contamination of soils. Despite this, these are poorly focused problems and scarce resources are dedicated to them.

Desertification is an element that increasingly influences the planet's environmental degradation and plays an important role in water, air and soil pollution, deforestation, soil losses and climate change. Combating desertification is essential to ensure the long-term productivity of uninhabited drylands. Unfortunately, efforts to combat this growing problem have frequently failed and, as a result, land degradation continues to worsen. To control desertification, it is essential that human societies learn again what they learned for the first time thousands of years ago, that is, that social and cultural life is only possible in dry areas if it is capable of developing an economy that is in harmony with nature, adapted to the conditions of the place.

* Cristian Frers
Senior Technician in Environmental Management and Senior Technician in Social Communication


Video: Climate change: the risk of desertification (May 2022).