Desertification and its causes

Desertification

According to Article 1 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and semi-humid regions caused by climate change and human activities such as overgrazing, overcultivation and overharvesting of forests. In the case of the Sahara Desert in Africa, the desert is gradually expanding into southern Africa due to the drought that has continued since 1986.

Desertification causes and effects

Desertification is caused by a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors. In the 20th century, humans over-cultivated and deforested land in order to survive and provide resources for a rapidly growing population, resulting in soil degradation and climate change.

The gradual loss of forests through deforestation increases the reflection of solar energy from the earth’s surface, which in turn cools the earth’s surface and lowers its temperature. The cooler surface creates a dry downdraft and reduces rainfall, which means less moisture in the soil, leading to faster desertification.

As desertification progresses, a number of phenomena characteristic of desertification appear, such as vegetation destruction, soil erosion, sand accumulation, and soil degradation, and finally, the basis for food production is destroyed, causing tremendous damage to human society.

Desertification around the world

Desertification is occurring rapidly in the southwestern United States, eastern Mexico, North Africa, the Sahel (south of the Sahara Desert in Africa), and China. In fact, 6 million hectares of agricultural land (60% of the area of South Korea) are converted to desert every year, and the area around the Sahara Desert in Africa is expanding at an average rate of 10 kilometers per year.

In addition, the area of desertification in Northeast Asia is 386 million ha, and it is increasing by 350,000 ha every year, which is 30% of the area of Gyeongsangnam-do in Korea. In China, 27% of the land area is desert, and in Mongolia, 41% is desert, of which 90% is affected by desertification. In Mongolia, desertification is particularly accelerated due to high temperatures and low precipitation, as well as social characteristics such as overgrazing.

International efforts: The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which aims to combat desertification through international efforts and to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries experiencing severe dry spells and land degradation, was finally adopted in Paris, France, on June 17, 1994, with four annexes.

It was signed by 97 countries on October 14 of the same year and officially entered into force in December 1996. The first General Assembly was held in Rome, Italy, in 1997, and the Permanent Secretariat was established in Bonn, Germany, at a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, in 1998. Since then, it has been held annually until its fifth session, and biennially since its sixth session in 2003. The Republic of Korea, which became the 156th state party in August 1999, has been participating in the Convention since its third session in Recife, Brazil, in November of the same year.

According to the Convention, Contracting Parties are required to adopt a comprehensive approach that addresses the physical, biological, and socioeconomic aspects of desertification and halting processes in a holistic manner and to strengthen subregional, regional, and international cooperation.

They are also obliged to utilize existing bilateral and multilateral financial mechanisms and agreements that mobilize and provide substantial financing to affected parties for the prevention of desertification and the mitigation of hail damage.

Convention to Combat Desertification

The Convention to Combat Desertification aims to combat desertification due to overexploitation and misuse through international efforts and to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries experiencing severe hill and desertification and land degradation.

The official name is the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa.

International attention to desertification stems from the 1977 United Nations Conference on Desertification in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference recognized desertification as a global phenomenon and affirmed that combating desertification is an important task for human survival and well-being.

The Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was subsequently signed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, and entered into force in December 1996. As of the end of 2012, 195 countries have ratified the UNCCD, and Korea ratified it in August 1999.

The UNCCD aims to prevent desertification through international efforts and to provide financial and technical support to developing countries (especially African countries) that are experiencing severe hills, desertification, and land degradation.

Under the Convention to Combat Desertification, Parties to the Convention are jointly obliged to adopt a comprehensive approach to addressing the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of desertification and hillslope processes; to strengthen subregional, regional and international cooperation; and to utilize existing bilateral and “multilateral financial mechanisms and agreements” to mobilize and provide substantial financing to affected parties in developing countries to combat desertification and mitigate hillslope impacts.

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