Desertification and drought

Drought and desertification are closely related phenomena. Persisting over months or years, drought can affect large areas and may have serious environmental, social and economic impacts. While drought is a natural phenomenon, whose impacts can be exacerbated by human activities that are not adapted to the local climate, land degradation is the process of turning fertile land into less or non-productive land. In extreme cases in drylands this is called desertification. Land degradation and desertification are complex phenomena driven by un-adapted human activity in combination with land and climatic constraints. Inappropriate land use, such as monocultures, and unsustainable land management practices, such as deforestation, unsuitable agricultural practices and  overexploitation of water resources), can cause land degradation that can be further aggravated by drought.

Climate change is expected to increase frequency, duration and severity of droughts in many parts of the world. Such changing conditions add to already stressing land use globally and especially in the world’s fragile drylands. This may lead to an accelerated rate of land degradation and desertification which, in turn, is likely to increase poverty.

The JRC studies different aspects of these coupled human-environmental phenomena by monitoring and assessing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) from regional to global scales.

The JRC’s research on drought and desertification is relevant for the implementation of international conventions such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and for the development of pro-active risk management at national and regional scales. It futher contributes to improved water and food security and to the provision of assistance to developing countries.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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