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Joint Research Centre
World Atlas of Desertification (WAD)

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      LAND DEGRADATION: A GLOBAL PHENOMENON

The global environment is a common resource. It became increasingly clear that all of us are responsible for ensuring the continued sustainability of the livelihoods of current and future generations.  Humans dominate the planet and their influence extends to every part of the world. The intensified use of land in response to the needs and demands of an increasing population and economic growth poses serious threats to land resources.

The reduced capacity of the land to sustain basic ecosystem services and produce economic value (such as food, renewable energy and biological and cultural diversity) is a global phenomenon. This phenomenon is called land degradation, in extreme cases desertification.

The WAD considers land degradation and desertification to be a persistent reduction or loss of biological and economic productivity of land caused by human activities, often accelerated by natural factors like increasing aridity, droughts and climate change. Focus is on land used by people whose livelihoods depend (directly or indirectly) on this productivity, yet the reduction or loss of the productivity is driven by their use.

Increasingly, policies at national to global levels have been addressing these problems. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification addresses Land degradation. But now land degradation is a cross cutting concern that gets increasing attention in the other two RIO conventions, the climate - UNCFCCC and biodiversity convention- CCB, as well as many other global political scenes.

Through diverse fora, scientists have explained the progress made in understanding and mitigating land degradation. In the last decades, global and regional data sets on all aspects have been increased dramatically. There are however still substantial gaps in thematic coverage and continuity of data collections systems.

The WAD global mapping approach is based on converging evidence from a variety of data sources and is designed to identify areas affected by persistent land degradation factors as well as areas that are showing signs of recuperating the productive capacity.