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Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Many of 2 billion dryland dwellers at risk as land degrades

Growing desertification worldwide threatens to swell by millions the number of poor forced to seek new homes and livelihoods. And a rising number of large, intense dust storms plaguing many areas menace the health of people even continents away, international experts warn in a new report.

Thick storms rising out of the Gobi Desert affect much of China, Korea and Japan and even reduce air quality over North America, according to Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Desertification Synthesis. The report is based on information generated for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a $22 million, four-year global study by 1,300 experts from 95 countries.

"An increase in desertification-related dust storms is widely considered to be a cause of ill-health (fever, coughing, sore eyes) during the dry season," says the report. "Dust emanating from (the Gobi desert) and the Sahara has also been implicated in respiratory problems as far away as North America and has affected coral reefs in the Caribbean."

The report shows infant mortality in drylands in developing countries averages about 54 children per 1,000 live births, 10 times that of industrial countries. Importantly, the rate in such drylands is twice as high as that of other, non-dryland regions in developing countries.

The authors rank desertification ?land degradation in drylands as a result of climatic factors and human activities ?among the world's greatest environmental challenges, destabilizing societies by deepening poverty and creating environmental refugees who can often add stress to areas that may not be degraded.

Desertification has other strong adverse impacts on non-drylands as well. In addition to dust storms, biophysical impacts include downstream flooding, impairment of global carbon sequestration capacity, and regional and global climate change.

"Given the size of population in drylands, the number of people affected by desertification is likely larger than
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Source:United Nations University


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