Land degradation usually occurs on drylands (arid, semiarid, and dry subhumid areas). According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification held in Paris in 1994 (UNCCD, 1999), drylands are defined as those lands (other than polar and subpolar regions) where the ratio of annual precipitation to potential evapotranspiration falls within the range of 0.05-0.65.
Land degradation causes reduction in the biological or economic productivity of those lands that may support cropland, rangelands, forest, and woodlands. Land degradation threatens culturally unique agropastoral and silvopastoral farming systems and nomadic and transhumance systems. The consequences of land degradation are widespread poverty, hunger, migration, and creation of a potential cycle of debt for the affected populations.
Historical awareness of the land degradation was cited, mainly at the local and regional scales, by Plato in the 4th century b.c. in the Mediterranean region, and in Mesopotamia and China (WRI, 2001). The occurrence of the "dust bowl" in the United States during the 1930s affected farms and agricultural productivity, and several famines and mass migrations, especially in Africa during the 1970s, were important landmarks of land degradation in the 20th century.
It is estimated that more than 33% of the earth's land surface and 2.6 billion people are affected by land degradation and desertification in more than 100 countries. About 73% of rangelands in dryland areas and 47% of marginal rain-fed croplands, together with a significant percentage of irrigated croplands, are currently degraded (WRI, 2001). In sub-Saharan Africa, land degradation is widespread (20-50% of the land) and affects some 200 million people. This region experiences poverty and frequent droughts on a scale not known anywhere else in the world. Land degrada tion is also severe and widespread in Asia, Latin America, as well as other regions of the globe. Continuous land degradation is accelerating the loss of agricultural productivity and food production in the world. Over the next 50 years, food production needs to triple in order to provide a nutritionally adequate diet for the world's growing population. This will be difficult to achieve even under favorable circumstances. If land degradation is not checked and reversed, food yields in many affected areas will decline, and, as a result, malnutrition, starvation, and ultimately famine may occur. This chapter provides state-of-the-art information on international activities related to dryland degradation assessment and drought early warning.
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