Deser­ti­fi­ca­tion: The desert is growing

"Desertification" describes a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert. The reasons are manifold. Here you can learn more about this phenomenon.


Water is the source of all life. The water volume on earth is 1,4 billion km³ and has not changed for the past million years. What has changed, though, is the geographical and chemical distribution of water. During the 20th century around 97% of our water was saline water in the oceans, 2,3% ice and 0,62% was found on land. The atmosphere carried approximately 0,001%. Even though the bodies of water on land only take up a small part of the whole water volume on earth, they are the livelihoods for all humans. It feeds rivers, lakes, glaciers and groundwater. Since the beginning of weather reporting the part of water which is existent as ice and the water bodies on land is constantly decreasing.

Desertification describes the constant degradation of the ground quality due to water shortage and drought. The reasons for this are manifold, from heatwaves to missing rains and the rising water consumption by humans in combination with the increasing world population, which has tripled over the last 100 years.


The results are shortage of drinking water, crop failure, forest fires, low tides, vegetation damage, rising pollutant concentration in water bodies, famines and diseases. Many regions on earth are already suffering from droughts. This development can also be observed in Europe. In 2003, over 30,000 people died due to the heatwave during the summer months. Even in Germany lakes and rivers dried out and forests and fields withered. In Switzerland and Austria, a record of over 40°C was measured. The economic damage caused by the drought is estimated to be more than 16 billion US-$.

Even though the heatwave in Europe in 2003 may be an exception – in many parts of the world rising temperatures and droughts are not exceptional happenings anymore and reflect the overall global development.

Especially semi-arid and neighbouring areas of deserts are dealing with the impacts of desertification. Particularly big parts of Africa and Australia. Also, more and more people are living in areas which are in danger of droughts. Global warming as well as the constantly growing world population are expected to intensify the current problem with desertification. Surface sealing, drainage of swamp areas, forest clearance, monocultures, salt enrichment due to irrigation and the regulation of river systems are other factors which benefit the desertification process.


You can join a volunteer programme with Natucate in Australia to learn more about the battle against desertification. Approximately 40% of Australia, which is the 6th largest country in the world, are desert or very dry, especially in the south and the central area. And these areas are growing each year. People become more and more aware of the problems caused by desertification and droughts in the Australian outback is growing and start to value water much more which leads to an overall more sustainable handling of the available water resources.

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