desertification in the Sahel

Desertification in the Sahel.

Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Further, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) defines land degradation as a reduction or loss in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rain-fed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest, and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination of processes, including those arising from human activities and habitation patterns, such as: (i) soil erosion caused by wind and/or water; (ii) deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of soil; and (iii) long-term loss of natural vegetation.


The climatic impacts of the destruction of vegetation cover include increased albedo leading to decreased precipitation, which in turn leads exacerbates vegetation loss; increased atmospheric dust loading could lead to decreased monsoon rainfall and greater wind erosion and/or atmospheric pollution.


Land is desertified when it can no longer support the same plant growth it had in the past, and the change is permanent on a human time scale. Many things can cause desertification. Drought, overgrazing, fire, and deforestation can thin out vegetation, leaving exposed soil. If the nutrient-rich top soil blows or washes away, plants may not be able to return. Overfarming or drought can change the soil so that rain no longer penetrates, and the plants lose the water they need to grow. If the changing force is lifted – drought ends or cattle are removed, for example – but the land cannot recover, it is desertified. The loss of productive land for a season or even a few years is one thing, but to lose it effectively for ever is clearly far more serious.