ICTs to help poor rural people cope with the impact of water scarcity, desertification and drought (Google / IFAD)

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World Day to Combat Desertification: Harnessing technology to cope with drought and water scarcity

Contrary to a common misconception, the term ‘desertification’ does not refer to advancing deserts, though it can involve the encroachment of sand dunes on arable land. Rather, desertification is the persistent degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas known as drylands. Over time, such degradation creates desert-like conditions.

Desertification can result from overgrazing, over-cultivation, deforestation and poorly planned irrigation systems. Climate change exacerbates the problem, as frequent droughts, floods and other extreme weather events accelerate land degradation, exhausting the soil’s capacity to support agriculture. As a result, desertification annually depletes about 12 million hectares of cultivable land, enough to grow 20 million tonnes of grain.

For a billion people around the world who live in dryland regions, halting that trend is an urgent priority – a priority that is in the spotlight on 17 June, World Day to Combat Desertification, an annual United Nations observance. This year, the day is dedicated to raising awareness and taking action on the increasing scarcity of freshwater required to sustain crops and livestock, and ensure food security in drylands.

Effective action

Because desertification threatens food security, IFAD invests substantial resources in support of drylands agriculture. At the same time, IFAD and its partners are harnessing information and communications technologies, or ICTs, to help poor rural people cope with the impact of water scarcity, desertification and drought.

These cutting-edge technologies – most notably, satellite imaging – are being used to implement the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). They have the potential to facilitate more effective action on the problem by providing reliable data about weather conditions and crop yields in regions at risk.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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