Desertification and Drought - What can we do at home?
Drought is one of the most destructive natural disasters in terms of the loss of life arising from impacts, such as widescale crop failure, wildfires and water stress. Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity, up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year. By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population. It’s a global and urgent issue. The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is a United Nations observance celebrated each year on 17 June. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the presence of desertification and drought, highlighting methods of preventing desertification and recovering from drought. (From the United Nations website)
Desertification is the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture caused by humans. (National Geographic)
A drought is a period of time when an area or region experiences below-normal precipitation. The lack of adequate precipitation, either rain or snow, can cause reduced soil moisture or groundwater, diminished stream flow, crop damage, and a general water shortage. (National Geographic)
In Australia, desertification in some form is estimated to have occurred over about 42% of the 5 million km(2) of arid and semiarid lands in Australia. The major factors leading to desertification in Australia are:
Wind Erosion – The removal of soil by wind. Overgrazing of livestock and removal of vegetation and natural windbreaks have escalated this natural phenomenon.
Water Erosion – the displacement of topsoil when water flows over the ground surface. A reduction in vegetation cover means the soil is less protected against water erosion.
Soil Fertility Decline – a lack of nutrients in soils, as a result of more nutrients being removed from the soil than can be sustainably replaced.
Soil Salinity – One of Australia’s most significant problems, especially in South-West Australia. Caused by activities that alter water balance and affect the water table.
Soil Acidity – Excess nitrogen being released into soils through the use of fertilisers, creating acidic soils that affect plant growth.
To combat this, Australia has introduced the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) program, in conjunction with the Working on Country Indigenous Ranger Programme, is one of the leading initiatives addressing environmental degradation in Australia. Other programs to address salinity have also come into effect, however it is the Indigenous Ranger Program which has been recognised as an award winning program by the United Nations.
It is heartwarming to know there are strategies in place at a national level to address desertification and drought. But you are probably wondering what we can do at home as individuals.
There are plenty of ways, but here are ten for you to consider:
Grow as much of your own food as you can
Eat locally grown food grown where possible using organic and sustainable methods
Plant trees wherever you can, at your home or with your local Landcare group
Collect rainwater in tanks for irrigation and use in the home where possible
Place buckets in the shower and kitchen sink to collect water while showering and washing dishes, so long as you use environmentally friendly products, to then water plants
Limit your personal carbon footprint, use this calculator to determine your footprint
Reduce your energy consumption
Establish and/or use local seed banks to keep the food energy cycle local
Practice cover cropping and never having bare soil to build soil health and prevent soil degradation
Share this information with others who may not know and advocate wherever possible for better land management practices
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