What is desertification, and how does it impact health?

Online Q&A
17 June 2008

Q: What is desertification, and how does it impact health?

A: Desertification is the process by which fertile land becomes desert. Weather extremes – particularly drought – and human activities that pollute or degrade land (including over-cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation) convert arable land into desert. As ecosystems change and deserts expand, food production diminishes, water sources dry up and populations are pressured to move to more hospitable areas.

The potential impacts of desertification on health include:

  • higher threats of malnutrition from reduced food and water supplies;
  • more water- and food-borne diseases that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water;
  • respiratory diseases caused by atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants;
  • the spread of infectious diseases as populations migrate.

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