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Desertification occurs in all continents except Antarctica and affects the livelihoods of millions of people by the reduction or loss of biological or economic productivity. Drylands occupy 41% of the world’s land area and in 2000 were the home to about 2 billion people, roughly a third of the human population
All drylands are potentially threatened by desertification. It is thought that some 10% to 20% of drylands, or some six to twelve million square kilometres may already have been degraded. As a comparison the area of China is 9.6 million square kilometres.
Most drylands are found in developing countries and when compared to the rest of the world, inhabitants of drylands lag far behind in terms of human well-being and development indicators.
The level of poverty will vary with the level of aridity and from region to region, but populations continue to rise in spite of high infant mortality rates that can reach 54 per 1000 in some areas. Growth in health and education infrastructure, facilities and services continues to be slow
The traditionally harsh environment forced dryland populations to be flexible in their use of land. This resulted in a livelihood based on a mixture of hunting, gathering, farming and herding that was very suitable for this sort of environment.