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Here is a case study from a United Nation document, Desertification: The Invisible Frontline. “To fight or to flee? These are the stark choices Maria, a single mother from the Bangalala midlands of Tanzania, faces repeatedly. Her choice, along with those of families like hers, is felt all over the world. ‘After the rains failed for a few years, some neighbours claimed our trees were drawing too much water from the ground. We cut them down. Our harvests fell…. That’s when my father and I moved from the midlands to the… river valley…. My mother stayed at Bangalala…. But where we moved to, my crop also failed last year. That is why early this year I moved again, but I left my father behind. I hope to farm here much longer…. But when will this moving end? I cannot afford it anymore.’”

Desertification, said the study, is a “silent, invisible crisis,” which has turned its human victims into refugees, displaced people, and migrants. The consquences are scary — as it undermines livelihoods, it leads to inter-ethnic clashes that forces governments to use force to control the situation. Consequently, many of the victims “turn to radicalisation, extremism or resource-driven wars for survival. In order to restore peace, security and international stability in a context where changing weather events are threatening the livelihoods of more and more people, survival options are declining and state capacities are overburdened, then more should be done to combat desertification, reverse land degradation, and mitigate the effects of drought.”

Human action has now become a major factor for land degradation and expansion of deserts. One estimate showed that we contribute to the problem through overgrazing (35% contributor), deforestation (30%), other agricultural activities (28%), overexploitation of fuel wood (7%), and bio-industrial activities (1%). Other studies contend that 40% of our planet’s land area is dryland, and of this 15% are hyper-arid deserts. “The greatest impact of land degradation is in the African continent, where dryland, including hyper-arid deserts, comprise about two-thirds of the continent.” It is in these areas that families like that of Maria reside, and continuously move.

It is not just the poor nations that are at risk. A 2018 study found that more areas are prone to land degradation, as per the Sensitivity Desertification Index, in Europe between 2008 and 2017. The situation, states a recent report, is “most serious in Southern Portugal, a large part of Spain, Sicily, Southern-Eastern Greece, Cyprus, and the areas bordering the Black Sea in Bulgaria and Romania.” Thirteen member states of the European Union have declared that they are “affected by desertification under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.” 

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