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Introduction: The End of Desertification?

Part of the Springer Earth System Sciences book series (SPRINGEREARTH)

Abstract

The opening chapters of this book examine something that never occurred but was widely believed to have existed—the late 20th century desertification crisis in the Sahel. Recent advances in climatology and changing weather patterns have effectively terminated further scientific debate about the existence of widespread Sahelian desertification, providing us with an opportunity to take stock and draw lessons. The logical and empirical shortcomings of the concept of desertification have been known for decades but the idea has been institutionalized at the global level and is remarkably resilient. The middle section of this book presents new reasons for concluding that the concept of desertification is no longer analytically useful and that we should instead struggle to better define and measure dryland degradation. The closing chapters of the book provide case studies from around the world that examine the use and relevance of the desertification concept. Despite an increasingly sophisticated understanding of dryland environments and societies, the uses now being made of the desertification concept in parts of Asia exhibit many of the shortcomings of earlier work done in Africa. It took scientists more than three decades to transform a perceived desertification crisis in the Sahel into a non-event. This book is an effort to critically examine that experience and accelerate the learning process in other parts of the world.

Keywords

  • Desertification
  • Dryland degradation
  • UNCCD
  • Sahel
  • China

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Drylands receive relatively low precipitation in the form of rainfall or snow and have an aridity index of <0.65. The aridity index is a measure of the ratio between average annual precipitation and total annual potential evapotranspiration. Drylands can be subdivided into: hyper-arid deserts (<0.05 index of aridity), arid (0.05–0.20 index of aridity), semi-arid (0.2–0.5 index of aridity) and dry sub-humid (0.5–0.65 index of aridity). A further defining characteristic of many (but not all) drylands is a strongly seasonal and sharply variable distribution of precipitation, both within and between rainy seasons (UN Environment Management Group 2011).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Carol Kerven, Mark Stafford Smith, and Cara Kerven for reading and providing helpful comments on the various multiple drafts of this introduction.

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Correspondence to Roy Behnke .

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Behnke, R., Mortimore, M. (2016). Introduction: The End of Desertification?. In: Behnke, R., Mortimore, M. (eds) The End of Desertification? . Springer Earth System Sciences. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-16014-1_1

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