By Faranak Bakhtiari

Droughts may affect three-quarters of the world by 2050

June 17, 2022 - 17:49

TEHRAN – The United Nations has warned that droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.

Droughts are among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries, but increasingly so in developed nations too.

The number and duration of droughts have increased by 29 percent since 2000, as compared to the two previous decades (WMO 2021). When more than 2.3 billion people already face water stress, this is a huge problem. More and more of us will be living in areas with extreme water shortages, including an estimated one in four children by 2040 (UNICEF). No country is immune to drought (UN-Water 2021).

This year, the theme of the International Day Against Desertification, and Drought "Rising up from drought together", emphasizes the need for an early action to avoid disastrous consequences for humanity and the planetary ecosystems.

70-year history of dealing with desertification 

Iran has a 70-year history of dealing with desertification and dust control, with about 5 million hectares of planted forests in sand and dust storm hotspots, especially in areas with less than 50 mm of rainfall, Ali Mohammad Tahmasebi, head of the national working group for mitigating SDSs, has said.

Iran has a 70-year history of dealing with desertification and dust control, with about 5 million hectares of planted forests in sand and dust storm hotspots. Studies by international organizations show that the Islamic Republic has recorded the highest number of reforested desert areas after China, he added.

Parviz Garshasbi, deputy head of the Forests, Rangelands, and Watershed Management Organization (FRWMO), has said that according to the Sixth National Development Plan, desert greening measures were to be carried out in 1,140,000 hectares of the country's deserts, but so far, the operations have been conducted in only 350,000 hectares of deserts.

An estimated 2 billion tons of soil is lost due to erosion in Iran annually, it takes an average of 400 years to form a centimeter of soil on the planet, he said, adding, in Iran's climate, this time is between 700 and 1000 years.

Wind erosion brings an annual economic and environmental damage of 30 trillion rials (nearly $714 million at the official rate of 42,000 rials) to the country, according to the latest studies in 2019.

“Over 88 percent of the country can be affected by desertification. According to the 2018 survey, 37 million hectares of the country are exposed to land degradation and 23 percent of the total area is subject to severe degradation in terms of reduction of vegetation and soil fertility.

Also, 22 provinces of the country with an area of 29.5 million hectares in 187 regions are affected by wind erosion and there are 237 crisis centers with an area of 13.9 million hectares due to the influx of annual quicksand to the railway infrastructure, roads, agriculture, and other parts are damaged,” he explained.

When the soil asks for help

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one-third of the world's land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing, and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of the land.

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed every year to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. The day is a unique moment to remind everyone that land degradation neutrality is achievable through problem-solving, strong community involvement, and cooperation at all levels.

The matter requires even more attention now. When the land degrades and stops being productive, natural spaces deteriorate and transform. Thus, greenhouse gas emissions increase and biodiversity decrease. It also means there are fewer wild spaces to buffer zoonosis, such as COVID-19, and protect us from extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, and sand and dust storms.

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