Causes of desertification

Desertification is the process of land turning into desert as the quality of the soil declines over time. Many countries around the world suffer from the problems caused by desertification but it is the Sahel region of Africa where the effects are greatest. The Sahel is a narrow belt of land which lies immediately to the south of the Sahara Desert and which extends across most of Africa. The main causes of desertification include:

  • Population growth - the population in some desert areas is increasing. In places where there are developments in mining and tourism, people are attracted by jobs. An increased population is putting greater pressure on the environment for resources such as wood and water.
  • Removal of wood - in developing countries, people use wood for cooking. As the population in desert areas increases, there is a greater need for fuel wood. When the land is cleared of trees, the roots of the trees no longer hold the soil together so it is more vulnerable to soil erosion.
  • Overgrazing - an increasing population results in larger desert areas being farmed. Sheep, cattle and goats are overgrazing the vegetation. This leaves the soil exposed to erosion.
  • Soil erosion - this is made worse by overgrazing and the removal of wood. Population growth is the primary cause for soil erosion.
  • Climate change - the global climate is getting warmer. In desert regions conditions are not only getting warmer but drier too. On average there is less rain now in desert regions than there was 50 years ago.
Sahel desert
The semi-arid landscape of the Sahel