June 17th is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, and is observed every year to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. Here’s how 5 countries are fighting desertification.

China

First on our list of how countries are fighting desertification is China. Research shows that currently 27.4% of land in China has undergone desertification, affecting about 400 million people. How is China working to tackle desertification? The nation implemented the “Great Green Wall Of China” project in 1978 to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert and provide timber to the local population. A quarter of all landmass is desert in China, which until recently was rapidly expanding. Some causes and impacts of desertification include include “aeolian desertification,” caused by wind erosion after vegetation is destroyed, “water and soil loss,” caused by water erosion mainly distributed in the Loess plateau, “salinisation,” caused by poor water management and “rock desertification,” mainly occurring in the Karst region of Southwestern China. 

The Great Green Wall project is expected to continue until 2050 and aims to plant around 88 million acres of forests in a wall stretching about 4 800 km and as wide as 1 400 km miles in some places. The government has subsidised and added numerous major afforestation projects in more recent years, resulting in the biggest tree-planting project in human history. 

The results have so far been positive, as thousands of acres of moving dunes have been stabilised and the frequency of sandstorms nationwide fell by one-fifth between 2009 and 2014. 

You might also like: What is the ‘Great Green Wall’ in China?

Africa

Stretching from Senegal to Djibouti, the Great Green Wall of Africa was conceived in 2007 by the African Union as a 7 000km barrier intended to hold back the Sahara and Sahel deserts. The “wall” is intended to improve livelihoods in the regions impacted by droughts in the Sahel region, sequester carbon dioxide and reduce conflict, terrorism and migration. However, lack of funding, technical support and poor oversight has marred the progress of the project. The Great Green Wall of Africa has covered only 4% of its target area more than halfway through its 2030 completion date, according to a UN status report

However, the project has thus far created more than 350 000 new jobs, USD$90 million in revenue and 18 million hectares of land restoration in participating countries. This 18 million hectares includes landscapes involved in other related regional initiatives as well as 12 million hectares under restoration in Ethiopia alone. 

The results varied from country to country. Ethiopia is a frontrunner, having reportedly planted 5.5 billion seedlings. Other countries have lagged largely because of different geographies, levels of governance and economic development. Burkina Faso planted 16.6 million plants and seedlings and Chad 1.1 million, although both nations received more financial support for the project. 

Jordan

Jordan is at risk of rapid desertification. It receives little rainfall, with 90% of the country receiving less than 200mm a year. Deforestation, soil erosion, inappropriate land use and cultivation practices, climate change and drought all contribute to increasing desertification. Rapid urbanisation has also taken a toll. Continuing desertification could have a far-reaching environmental, social and economic impact. For example, the Badia area of Jordan is the main region for livestock production and many people in Badia depend on the rangeland to make a living. Faced with the prospect of losing their livelihood, many of the farmers in Badia might move into the cities looking for work, putting more pressure on urban areas. Less arable land and fewer farmers could also mean decreased food production. 

To combat desertification, Jordan is implementing a project funded under NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme. Scientists are conducting research in the Yarmouk Basin, a 1 400 sq km area in the Badia region. Most of the area is at risk for high rates of soil loss by wind and water, which can lead to desertification. Researchers will develop a system to monitor changes in the soil, water, vegetation and climate using remote sensing tools and geographic information system models. This way it will be possible to warn the Jordanian government that desertification is taking place, before it is too late to take action.

The project will also help build capacity among Jordanian researchers and end users. In the first year of the project, young researchers and scientists received training on instruments used to calibrate remote-sensing data for drought monitoring, as well as on the use of new techniques for desertification mapping and soil-moisture monitoring.

Australia

Australia has made Indigenous people guardians of more than 40% of its national reserves.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are areas of land and sea managed by Indigenous groups as protected areas for biodiversity conservation through voluntary agreements with the Australian government. IPAs are an essential component of Australia’s National Reserve System, the network of formally recognised parks, reserves and protected areas across Australia. There are currently 78 dedicated IPAs over 74 million hectares, accounting for more than 46% of the National Reserve System.

IPAs deliver more than environmental benefits. Managing IPAs helps Indigenous communities protect the cultural values of their country for future generations and results in significant health, education, economic and social benefits.

Ethiopia

Last on our list of countries fighting desertification is Ethiopia. It is one of the world’s most vulnerable country to desertification, and it greatly impairs the food security of millions of rural dwellers living in Ethiopia’s arid and semi-arid regions. Intensive livestock farming and the need for land to plough are the major factors behind these threats to the environment. 

To combat desertification, the government intends to restore 22 million hectares of drylands in Ethiopia by 2030. It works in tandem with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners, supporting the Great Green Wall initiative. In 2016, FAO’s Action Against Desertification started operating in Ethiopia. It is active in the Gollina, Metema and Raya-Azebo districts of Ethiopia’s Afar, Amhara and Tigray regional states.

Between 2016 and 2018, 1 600 hectares of degraded land were planted to initiate their restoration, mainly through enrichment of woodlands, assisted natural regeneration and sustainable land management practices.

These countries that are fighting desertification should serve as a word of caution to other countries who are at the tipping point of experiencing devastating land degradation.

Featured image by: Flickr