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

any other contemporary environmental problem," says the report.

Occupying more than four-tenths (41%) of the world's land area, drylands are home to over two billion people, among them some of the world's most impoverished, dependant on the environment for basic needs. Indeed, half of all people living in poverty are in drylands.

Impacts of desertification are exacerbated by political marginalization of the dryland poor, and the slow growth of health and education infrastructure.

"The cross boundary nature of the problem makes desertification a global concern ?one that receives too little attention," says co-author Zafar Adeel, Assistant Director of the United Nations University water academy in Canada, the UNU International Network on Water, Environment and Health.

Population growth, globalization and desertification

Desertification is not the result of drought alone, as often believed, says co-author Gregoire de Kalbermatten, of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. "Drylands experience frequent droughts without harm. However dryland ecosystems are fragile and human activity can increase their vulnerability to seasonal fluctuations and droughts."

"Population growth, inappropriate policies, and some aspects of globalization are the main drivers that lead to unsustainable pressure on dryland ecosystems," he says.

Adds co-author Uriel Safriel of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland: "For centuries pastoral people lived in such regions with minimal impact. This 'harmony' was a default result of smaller populations, low stocking rates, and large areas to forage on. The conversion of rangelands to croplands reduced the available pasture and the collection of firewood by many, not necessarily just the pastoralists, reduced range quality. The lesson is that increasing population pressure not accompanied by management practices compatible with the new population si
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Source:United Nations University


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