World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
Drought and desertification causes soils to erode or disappear, removes drinking water, reduces biodiversity and degrades agricultural land to the extent that 12 million hectares are lost. Earthwatch’s programmes take action to manage current and future drought challenge around the world.
Credit: Mustafah Abdulaziz
Desertification is land degradation caused by human activities, including unsustainable farming, clear-cutting of land and climate change.
It is a threat to ecosystems that leads to infertile land, erosion, and depletion of wildlife. It is also predicted that 50million people may be displaced within 10 years due to desertification.
In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 17 the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. Earthwatch programmes are gathering knowledge to take action on current and future drought challenges.
"Land degradation, caused or exacerbated by climate change, is not only a danger to livelihoods, but also a threat to peace and stability." – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In 2014 and 2015 São Paulo suffered two of the driest seasons on record, that left the five reservoirs providing the city’s water just 12% full.
As the amount of water availability declines, understanding the human impact on water quality becomes ever more important. Lack of infrastructure and poor domestic wastewater treatment is common in urban areas in Brazil which makes São Paulo’s water resources a risk for both ecological balance and human health.
As a partner in the HSBC Water Programme, Earthwatch is delivering freshwater research and education to help inform and transform water ecosystem management. Inspiring communities to become stewards of their water is vital and FreshWater Watch is a global project which trains and people to become citizen scientists. FreshWater Watchers learn how to conserve water and monitor their local waterbodies.
Before the water crisis, the amount of water consumed was 65,000 litres per second but, through necessity and education, that has now reduced to about 35,000 litres per second.
Water Stories, a photographic exhibition by Mustafah Abdulaziz for the HSBC Water Programme capturing the global water crisis and documenting the partners' work around the globe highlighted the Brazil drought.
Droughts in the future
Humans have changed the UK landscape beyond recognition. Once covered by 85% ancient forest, now small pockets of woodland cover only 12% of the UK.
Climate change is pushing our weather conditions to more extremes, and some scientists predict that 50% less rainfall in the UK by 2080. Earthwatch researchers, Dr Martha Crockett and Dr Alan Jones are leading a study into the impact of a drier climate on forests.
The Dri-wood project, in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, simulates a forest with 50% less rainfall. Our researchers are analysing the effects of reduced rainfall on the forests’ ability to capture carbon.
Dr Crockatt demonstrating Driwood research in Wytham, Oxford.
Dr Crockatt urges decision makers to sustainably manage our remaining forests, as they are naturally occurring carbon-absorbers which could help mitigate the vast amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by human activity such as burning fossil fuels.
When forests become degraded through deforestation and disease, they can emit more carbon than they absorb, which has potentially catastrophic consequences for our environment. Due to their small area a great proportion is exposed to the ‘edge effects’ of being within 100m of the edge of the forest. .
Dr Crockatt said: “About 75 per cent of all of the UK’s forests are within 100m of the forests edge now because they have been reduced to small parcels by roads, agriculture and house building. This reduces their ability to function.”
At the edge of the forest plants are sparser and the ground in which they grow are is more exposed to extreme weather, eroding the soil and making it less habitable for new growth.
Scientists are drawing links between trees helping create rain clouds and large scale deforestation exacerbating drought conditions.
Find out more on the UN World Day to Combat Desertification and benefits of reforestation and water management.