Friday, June 26, 2009

Deserts crossing the Mediterranean

ANSA (Italy): The Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean, according to Italian environmental protection group Legambiente which warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk. ''Desertification isn't limited to Africa,'' said Legambiente Vice President Sebastiano Venneri.

''Without a serious change of direction in economic and environmental policies, the risk will become concrete and irreversible.'' A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

Legambiente said that southern Italy was at severe risk in addition to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia where 11% of all arable land showed signs of drying up. ''Semi-arid coastal regions like southern Italy are prone to the effects of desertification due to farmers' dependence on water from underground aquifers instead of rainfall,'' said Legambiente spokesman Giorgio Zampetti. According to Zampetti, pumping too much fresh water out of these underground deposits can result in seawater leaking in to replace it, effectively poisoning the groundwater.

As an example of the long-term consequences, Legambiente pointed to Egypt where it said brackish groundwater had compromised half the country's farmland.

''The south of Italy isn't the only part of the country at risk,'' added Zampetti. ''Aquifers around the Po Delta in northern Italy have also begun showing signs of saltwater contamination.'' Experts said that the Po River, which is Italy's longest waterway and nearly dries up in parts when industrial consumption peaks, is one of the most visible examples of desertifying climate change in Italy. Italy is not the only country in Europe losing fertile land....

Mount Etna seen from Castelmola above Taormina, Sicily, shot by Arnold Paul, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

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