Desertification and Impact on Sustainability of Human Systems

  • David MouatEmail author
  • Scott Thomas
  • Judith Lancaster
Reference work entry
Part of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology Series book series (ESSTS)



Changes made by organisms, including humans, to enable them to be more suitable for different conditions or situations.


The gradual degradation of habitable land which affects soils, flora, and fauna and reduces productivity and an ecosystem’s ability to adapt. It is caused by various factors, including natural dynamics, climatic condition, and human activities. Direct causes of desertification include wind and water erosion, deforestation, overgrazing, land conversion to crop land, irrigation leading to salinization, and other physical stressors leading to soil loss, soil compaction, loss of vegetative cover, loss of biodiversity, and degradation in ecosystem productivity. Indirect causes include climate variation, poverty, political instability, lack of education, or a combination of factors.


A period of reduced precipitation resulting in prolonged shortages in the water supply. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem,...


  1. 1.
    MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: desertification synthesis. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, p 25Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    FAO (2011) The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW) – managing systems at risk. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/Earthscan, Rome/LondonGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Aubreville A (1949) Climats, forest, et desertification de l’Afrique Tropicale. Societe de Editions Geographiques, Maritime et Coloniales, Paris, p 255Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dietz AJ, Ruben R, Verhagen A (eds) (2004) The impact of climate change on drylands: with a focus on West Africa, Environment and policy series, vol 39. Springer, New York, p 468Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    UNCED (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) (1992) Earth summit agenda 21: programme of action for sustainable development. United Nations Department of Public Information, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    UNCCD (2004) Preserving our common ground. UNCCD: 10 years on. Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Available at: Accessed Jul 2017
  7. 7.
    Low PS (ed) 2013 Economic and social impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought. White Paper I. UNCCD 2nd scientific conference, prepared with the contributions of an international group of scientists. Available at:
  8. 8.
    Reynolds JF, Stafford Smith DM, Lambin EF, Turner BL II, Mortimore MN, Batterbury SPJ, Downing TE, Dowlatabadi H, Fernandez RJ, Herrick JE, Huber-Sannwald E, Jiang H, Leemans R, Lynam T, Maestre FT, Ayarza M, Walker B (2007) Global desertification: building a science for dryland development. Science 316:847–851, and 11 May 2007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    United Nations Convention to combat desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa 1994. Accessed 8 July 2017
  10. 10.
    European Commission Joint Research Center and UNEP (2015) World atlas of desertification, introductory brochure, p 16 (Atlas forthcoming)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Nwokocha CO (2017) An appraisal of the strategies implored by government to combating drought and desertification in the North-East geo-political zone, 2004-2014. Rev Pub Adm Manage 5:205. Scholar
  12. 12.
    Reynolds JF, Stafford Smith DM (2002) Do humans cause deserts?, pp 1–21. In: Reynolds JF, Stafford Smith DM (eds) Global desertification: do humans cause deserts? Dahlem University Press, Berlin, p 437Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    CCDC (Commission on Climate Change and Development) (2008) Climate change and drylands.
  14. 14.
    IPCC (2014) Climate change 2014: synthesis report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change [Core Writing Team, Pachauri RK, Meyer LA (eds)]. IPCC, Geneva, p 151Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    de Wit M, J S (2006) Changes in surface water supply across Africa with predicted climate change. Science 311:1917–1921CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Walker B, Salt D (2006) Resilience thinking: sustaining ecosystems and people in a changing world. Island Press, Washington, DC, pp 1–151Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Walker B, Holling CS, Carpenter SR, Kinzig A (2004) Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecol Soc 9(2): Article 5. Available online: Accessed July 2017
  18. 18.
    Vogel CH, Smith J (2002) Building social resilience in arid ecosystems, pp 149–165. In: Reynolds JF, Stafford Smith DM (eds) Global desertification: do humans cause deserts? Dahlem University Press, Berlin, p 437Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bradley D, Grainger A (2004) Social resilience as a controlling influence on desertification in Senegal. Land Degrad Dev 15:451–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    UNEP (2004) Women and desertification: a dynamic relationship. Chapter 4, in UNEP, 2004, Women and the environment, pp 49–59.
  21. 21.
    Hart SL (2010) Capitalism at the crossroads: next generation business strategies for a post-crisis world, 3rd edn. Pearson, Upper Saddle River, p 175Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Orr BJ, Cowie AL, Castillo Sanchez VM, Chasek P, Crossman ND, Erlewein A, Louwagie G, Maron M, Metternicht GI, Minelli S, Tengberg AE, Walter S, Welton S (2017) Scientific conceptual framework for land degradation neutrality. A Report of the science-policy interface. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), BonnGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Zhou L, Mouat D (2007) Whose decisions impact land use change: the people or the government? Thoughts from Northwest China. Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hannaway D, Mouat D Brewer L (2017) Greening the desert: strategies and tools for sustainability. Proceedings of the 6th Kubuqi International Desert Forum (KIDF), OrdosGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Emiru N (2010) Role of traditional institutions in water resource governance in the Borana lowlands, southern Ethiopia. Haramata 55:13–15Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Who is CANAM? Accessed July 2017
  27. 27.
    Kerner DA, Thomas JS (2014) Resilience attributes of social-ecological systems: framing metrics for management. Resources 3:672–702. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Earth and Ecosystem SciencesDesert Research InstituteRenoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • James LaMoreaux
    • 1
  1. 1.P.E. LaMoreaux & Associates, Inc.TuscaloosaUSA

Personalised recommendations