Desertification assessment:The criteria and indicators

  1. 1.     Hypothesis

 The hypothesis or main issue of the present study is to review the possibility of achieving the minimum, expressive, simple and regional criteria and factors that can provide us with the actual review of the desertification process in Iran. In other words, this study attempts to introduce a list of the most efficient assessment criteria for the land degradation in the regions affected by the process of desertification and to provide measurable, accessible and simple factors for the assessment of exact condition of the said criteria. Therefore, by strengthening and updating the watch and observation systems of the country, the more accurate forecast of desertification risk according to the affected climatic conditions or natural environments and increase in percentage of success of the national action programmes are more expected.

In the process of this important achievement, the complete definition of desertification and its scope, and also its difference with other scientific terms such as desert and land degradation, together with strict and adducible norms for identification of criteria and indicators will be necessary. This paper has also tried to respond properly to the following question of: Why the climatic factors can not only be referred in the assessment of desertification process?

  1. 2.     Preface:

It seems that what we call “desertification” today and have already believed in its hasty process of degradation of the global environment, is so far from the limited boundaries of its effects assumed by A. Auberville and Luies Lavvden[1] and can not only be briefed in “creeping desert”; the real desertification is the “soil deterioration” of the lands out of the natural desert boundaries in the form of soil productivity decline and increase in soil sensitivity to erosion[2], qualitative and quantitative decline of water tables, soil subsidence, growth in number and volume of floods, sedimentation of reservoirs and reduction of the dams efficient life, soil salinization and waterlogging, soil bareness, and finally immigration and decline in biodiversity[3]. Therefore the international desertification conferences should not necessarily be held in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Cairo or Khartoum, because Bonn, Rome, Hague or Tokyo can easily be named as threatening options. When the utmost soil degradation share in the world happens in Europe rather than Africa or Asia and when Europe witnesses the degradation of more than 23% of its soils (UNEP, 1997)[4], so that the Central European cities like Bonn and Rome lead the desertification control movement and more than 187 countries join a convention[5] that desertification control is its most important goal. It should be noted that considering the proved destructive role of human beings in the emergence of this world-wide crisis[6] it seems that to confront with it also require certain actions and several inter-disciplinary precisions and powerful interactions at the higher levels of decision-makers.

In 1987 A.C., a report was published by Oxford University entitled: “Our common future” (Excerpted from the speech of Javier Perez de Cuellar), that even after 16 years the power and credit of the insight dominating the words is not reduced; according to the report: “The earth is unique but the world is not; to continue our lives, all of us depend on environment to live, however all the societies and countries try for their existence and prosperity without paying attention to the impact of their efforts on others.”

So the hasty process of desertification in the beginning of the third millennium is a proof to the validity of the Oxford report. Millions of human beings are subject to death, and Malaria still takes a million victims annually[7]; and a million people live in the most vulnerable lands of Africa affected by desertification. But the civilized and wise people of the North think of their exclusive persistency and prosperity by doubling the Carbon production only during past three decades[8], with lamentable pertinacity! without paying attention to the apparent crises happening out of their borders. Are the time-to-time outbreaks of unknown viruses such as HIV/AIDS, SARS etc. a reason for understanding the accuracy of the Oxford motivation as all of us depend on environment to live?

Thus desertification is selected as one of the three main challenges of 21 century (after climatic change and freshwater scarcity) among 37 important global challenges (Roohi Pour, 2002, excerpted from the Annual Report 2000 of International Board of Science). Confrontation with such an important subject that is categorized as the highest among other priorities and identification, assessment and continued observation of its impacts can be considered vital and effective. Only efforts that realize the purpose of searching and introducing the most appropriate and practical criteria and factors of desertification get their proper validity. This is why He. E. Dregne, a famous scientist evolved in this field said that: “Confrontation with desertification without assessment and observation of different forms of degradation of the drylands is impossible.” (Dregne, 1998).

Now, before discussing the main subject, it is necessary to know the official definition of desertification, its scope and its main causing factors. Then the identification of area affected by desertification in Iran and its local and regional characteristics will be essential.

[1] A. Auberville and Luies Lavvden were two of the first people who used this scientific term (Le Houerou, 1995 and Dregne, 1986)

[2] According to the FAO report, the annual desertification reduces the production potential of 5-7 million hectares of the agricultural lands (almost one fifth of the area of Germany). (Horstmann, 2002).

[3] In 1975 the land fit for cultivation or the capacity of one hectare field (one of the desertification criteria) in the region including Iran (Middle East), was ) 0.45 that reduced to 0.37 individuals in 1995. In Arab countries of the Middle East region the number was 0.18 which reduced to 0.13 (Hoven, 2002).

[4] The amount of soil degradation for Africa and Asia are estimated 21.55% and 20.14% respectively (UNEP, 1997). Interesting enough, this amount has passed the limits of 27% for Italy.

[5] Excerpted from the speech of Mr. Lyons, the Resident Representative of UNDP in Islamic Republic of Iran, on the occasion of the Day held in Kerman, 17 June, 2003 (Lyons, 2003). It should be remarked that 53 out of 187 member countries were from Asia or Oceania (UNCCD, 2003).

[6] In his latest message on the occasion of the World Desertification Combating Day, 17 June 2003 announced that: “All parts of the earth are affected by this phenomenon” (Annan, 2003).

[7] Hamshahri, No. 3033, 26 March 2003, p. 5.

[8] Ibid.