Socio-economic consequences
of desertification
1.C4T1 2.C4T2
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3. The encroachment of the desert around the oases necessitates permanent crop protection.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Earth from Above / UNESCO

Consequences of desertification on human populations

4. Due to general drought conditions in the Sahel, the nomads in
Mali encounter in neighbouring Burkina Faso, the same degraded
lands and lack of food.
© FAO/6715/F. Botts

The growth of poverty and dependance
Desertification leads to poverty with all the social, economical and cutural consequences that this entails. Poverty then drives populations to over-exploit the remaining natural resources triggering a vicious cycle, accelerating land degradation still further. Poverty is thus both a cause and a consequence of desertification. Desertification affects the lifestyles of nearly one billion of the world’s population.

It weakens populations and institutions rendering them more vulnerable to global economic factors. The shortfall in earned tax receipts due to low productivity has consequences on the capacity of governments to reimburse their foreign debt and develop national socio-economic programmes. The persistance of drought and desertification reduces national food production and furthers the need to turn to foreign products. Moreover, food aid can eventually lead to a reduction in local agricultural production, particularly if it becomes more costly to produce locally than to resort to imported products that are distributed for free by the international community.

Socio-economic development in disequilibrium
Drought and diminishing soil fertility lead to the migration of the rural population. This creates problems in the urban environment as well as in rural areas not yet affected by land degradation, yet witness the migration of new arrivals. The inflated growth of urban centres leads to a reduction in the state budget allowance intended for rural development, which accentuates the rural exodus and raises food insecurity.
Rural populations often lose their possessions during severe drought.
Desertification can drive whole communities to migrate towards cities or regions where survival conditions are initially more promising but ultimately are very difficult: social stability and cultural identity are threatened and the makeshift dwellings, which are insanitary and illegal, are sometimes sources of ethnic or religious conflict.
Economic refugees are increasingly numerous: in Africa estimates place the number at 10 million individuals over the past twenty years.
The population of cities is swelling. Immigrants are often forced to settle in urban slums while rural areas are deserted. Between 1965 and 1988, the proportion of Mauritania’s people living in the capital Nouakchott rose from 9% to 41%, while the proportion of nomads fell from 73% to 7%.

5. Mobile, shifting sands gradually engulf dwellings
thus leading to the abandonment of certain villages.

6. During armed conflict, refugees are often obliged to
settle temporarily in camps where they try to survive
in often appalling conditions. Poor hygiene and relentless
exploitation of resources contribute to the intensification
of environmental degradation.
© F. Loock, UNESCO

Currently, there are more Senegalese in the Bakel region of France than in the villages they left behind, yet, given the chance, people would prefer to stay.
Desertification does not only concern developing countries but also developed countries, this is due to the immigration of populations forced to abandon their land rendered unsuitable for cultivation, and the huge amounts of money spent on disaster relief and humanitarian aid.

Desertification also encourages political instablity and has played some part in sparking off about ten of the armed conflicts currently in progress in the drylands.
The displacement and migration of refugees (following war or natural catastrophe) has disastrous consequences on the environment (deforestation, reckless over-exploitation of natural resources), accelerating desertification. Harsh living conditions and the loss of cultural identity also diminish social stability.



What are the principal causes of human and animal migration in your region and in your country?


Which type of person or population has recently settled in your region or recently moved away?


Do your family stock food reserves in case of hard times? Which types of foodstuffs are stored and how are they stored?


Would you like to leave your village or region? Why?

Where would you go? Explain your expectations of life elsewhere.

Do you know of someone that has left your community and leads another kind of life elsewhere, in another region?

What has this changed for him/her?


On average, how many animals make up a herd in your region?

Are the numbers more or less than the numbers found during your grandparents’ generation?

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