Ruiz, T. and Febles, G. Institute of Animal Science. Havana, Cuba
The international community has for some time recognized that desertification is a major economic, social and environmental problem, concerning many countries in all regions of the world. The first international effort to combat desertification began at the end of the great drought and famine that ravaged the Sahel in 1968-1974 and killed 200,000 people and millions of animals
Are deserts advancing? Despite the rhetoric that sometimes spills over in times of crisis, sands are not continually invading the surrounding lands. It may seem as if deserts expand when rains have been scarce for a long period, but in fact they generally revert when rainfall is plentiful. So, is all well? No. Land degradation continues and is increasing at an alarming rate, seriously eroding the precious world reserve of productive land. This phenomenon, when it occurs in the world's drylands, creates conditions similar to those of the desert and is called "desertification". This process gradually develops, as the various degraded soil areas spread and join up to each another, rather than occurring as a result of the desert advancing.
Is this due to the action of related natural forces or is it to do with time passing? No. Drought is part of the causes of desertification and, of course, does not improve things. But essentially it is a man-made problem, which appears when the lands in question are subjected to excessive pressures. Is it a problem that affects only the poor in developing countries? No. A thousand million people, the poorest and most marginalized in the world (living in the most vulnerable areas), are perhaps those who suffer the worst effects of desertification. But it also has other victims. Some 18 developed countries suffer the effects of desertification. And together, the developed countries (and the most prosperous regions in developing countries) are already affected indirectly because people migrate there when they realise the impossibility of living there on the produce of their degraded lands. Desertification shows us in a most graphic way how, anywhere in the world, poverty threatens the prosperity and sustainability everywhere.