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June 29, 2007 11:53PM
http://www.climateark.org/shared/reader/welcome.aspx?linkid=78773

Likely Spread of Deserts to Fertile Land Requires Quick Response, U.N. Report Says

Enough fertile land could turn into desert within the next generation to create an “environmental crisis of global proportions,” large-scale migrations and political instability in parts of Africa and Central Asia unless current trends are quickly stemmed, a new United Nations report concludes.

“The costs of desertification are large,” said Zafar Adeel of the United Nations University, who is based in Canada and is an author of the report, to be released Thursday.

“Already at the moment there are tens of millions of people on the move,” Dr. Adeel said in an interview. “There’s internal displacement. There’s international migration. There are a number of causes. But by and large, in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia this movement is triggered by degradation of land.”

The report’s authors say individual nations and international groups must collaborate to solve what has so far been an underrecognized crisis in the making, caused mainly by climate change. Water resources are overexploited because the poor have no other options, and climate change has exacerbated the cycle. Governments and wealthier countries must aid these populations to develop more sustainable livelihoods or suffer the consequences, the report says.

“Today, those migrants who are escaping dry lands are mostly moving around far from the developed world,” Janos Bogardi of the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany, a technical adviser on the report, said in an interview. “Those who end up on boats to Europe are the tip of an iceberg.”

Far more people move within their homeland, or to adjacent countries. Case studies have shown that up to 20 percent of Malians move to Ivory Coast in search of agricultural work during years of drought, for example. But as temperatures rise and desertification increases, such safer places may be overwhelmed.

“The numbers we now find alarming may explode in an uncontrollable way,” Dr. Bogardi said. “Because if you look at land use now and dry land, there is the potential that we are nearing a tipping point.”

The United Nations report estimates that 50 million people are at risk of displacement in the next 10 years if desertification is not checked. The report is a result of a United Nations-sponsored conference last December of 150 experts from 40 countries.......

..........“All of our concerns here in Europe about immigration bypass the huge crisis that is already occurring in the developing world, which is already bad,” he said. “If you add climate change to the mix, there’s a danger of it spinning out of control.”........
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