The Earth consists of a variety of geographical landscapes, ranging from the humid rainforests in South American to the freezing tundras in Antarctica. Some different external factors that have influenced the topography are location, climate, amount of vegetation, precipitation, wind erosion, and human activity. One landscape in particular that features many of the external factors is deserts. A desert is considered a place with slight vegetation that can only support a small population of humans or animals. A desert’s landscape ranges from a “sea of sand” to a “rocky and rugged” terrain. Deserts are characterized by a lack of precipitation and extreme temperatures (too low or too high for life to survive). Due to the air circulation patterns, the air sinks downward at 30 degrees north and south of the equator, warming up the surface, and making desert-like conditions. Climate zones shifting over time, topography changes, and plate motions have developed new deserts throughout different regions. However, one external factor can be prevented to help reduce the expansion of deserts: desertification.
Desertification only applies to the rapid development of deserts created or sped up due to human activities, such as land-use practices. During desertification, the expansion of desert into non-desert regions is not caused by forces within the desert. Desertification can be accelerated with natural forces, such as drought, but human activities cause the land to be “inhabitable.” Vegetation is critical in preventing deserts, such as providing the soil with shade and using their roots to break the soil up. The soil will become less permeable and will harden without the vegetation. Infiltration will start to decrease and water loss will occur by surface runoff. Plants also protect the soil from wind erosion, preserving soil fertility. Without vegetation, soil degradation takes place, demolishing the chances of future plant growth. Human activities can pressure the negligible lands into degradation, an irreversible change. Trying to feed a huge population of people in one particular area, crop failure, or numerous livestock in one place will help initiate desertification as well. Desertification is apprehension due to reducing the amount of cultivable land needed to grow food for society and for the farmer’s economic state. In many regions around the world, desertification continues to increase, causing loss of native vegetation, erosion, and reduced crop yields. One example of desertification in the world is the Sahel region.
The Sahel region is located on the continent of Africa, just south of the Sahara Desert, (Montgomery, 2020). The region extends from “the Atlantic Ocean, eastward of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, the great bend of the Niger River of Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, south-central Chad, and into Sudan.” The terrain used to be woodland, but the area now is more accessible. However, some parts of the Sahel region contain natural pasture for livestock, which includes low-growing grass, thorny shrubs, acacia, and baobab trees. The Sahel region is considered a savanna terrain, which is a grassland that is warm year-round, with some vegetation, but not enough rainfall occurs to help the rainforest flourish (Sahel, 2019). The climate of the Sahel region has varied at different times, ranging from the 1950s when the precipitation long term average went up by 20% to 1968 when Sahel experienced a long-term drought (Sahel Climate Region, 2019). Today, eight months of the year consist of a dry and warm climate. Mostly in the months of June, July, and August, the rainy season averages around 4-8 inches a year, or 100-200 mm (Sahel, 2019). The minimum average temperature in the Sahel region is around 21 degrees Celsius in the month of January, while the maximum temperature is around 33 degrees Celsius in the month of June (Sahel Climate Region, 2019). Crops that thrive in warmer temperatures, such as peanuts, are raised in the Sahel region. Towards the end of the 20th century, the Sahel region has been affected by the growing human population and demands, accelerating desertification and soil and erosion. For economic reasons, farmers and town dwellers have stripped the land of shrubs and trees to grow crops and acquire firewood. Also, an excessive number of livestock ate the remaining grass cover. The lack of vegetation makes the soil more vulnerable to more rainfall runoff and less permeable farmland. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, a long period of drought occurred, making the growing of crops impossible and killing over half of the cattle population. In 1973, the human population started to decrease due to famine and disease. Despite the government reforestation programs, the people of the Sahel region traveled westward in savannas and desertification accelerated (Sahel, 2019).
Between 1984 through 1985, the media brought the world’s attention to the “Hunger Belt,” where the land provided the necessities for human life, such as water and food. Scientists concluded that human activities were the main cause of the desertification crisis, but the drought helped increase the chances of desertification. The famine led to the “first mobilization of external aid and the creation of the Fund of Agricultural Development by the United Nations.” The first United Nations Conference of Desertification was held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1977. 17 years later, the United Nations declared World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is held on June 17th. In 2007, the Great Green Wall of Africa program was launched by the Heads of Senate and Government of Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Chad, along with the African Union. The program was based on Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan ecologist, who created the Green Belt Movement and planted more than 30 million trees in Kenya. The program plans to fix the governance errors and the incorrect approach to desertification. After meeting with ecologists, the better solution than planting trees was to choose “for the natural regeneration of the land and identify the flora of each area” (The Sahel, Desertification Beyond Drought, 2019).
Like the Sahel region in Africa, other countries around the world have struggled or are currently struggling with the possibility of desertification. Human activities can easily demolish the percent of arable land on Earth, leaving desert-like terrain and low crop production. In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl occurred in the United States. Farmers over-plowed and over-grazed the plains. The lack of vegetation due to human activities and crops dying from drought, causing the fields left exposed for wind erosion. To prevent history from repeating, new government programs have been put in place to avert desertification and assist the land to flourish again. Some external factors that impact the topography of the land on Earth such as wind, climate, and precipitation are only influenced by mother nature, but the human impact on Earth’s landscape can be controlled.
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