Saturday, April 13, 2013

Data dearth impeding fight against desertification

Jan Piotrowski in The lack of location-specific scientific data on the degradation of land, and the dearth of networks through which to share such data where it does exist, are hampering the fight against desertification, a conference has heard.

The absence of such data means that the global models that map land degradation and are used in policy and funding decisions misrepresent the situation in many regions, particularly in developing countries, heard the UN Convention to Combat Desertification's (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference in Bonn this week (9-12 April).

Klaus Kellner, South Africa's science and technology correspondent to the UNCCD, tells SciDev.Net that the World Atlas of Desertification, as well as similar maps for climate change and biodiversity, understate the severity of the situation as a result.

For example, a model presented to the conference indicated only minimal land degradation in the Sahel — a claim contradicted by scientists from the African region who attended the event, he says. "These global maps often overlook areas that have a lack of data, which are often the poorest and most in need," he adds.

The effect of land degradation, especially in the developing world, is significant, according to a UNCCD report, presented at the conference. Africa's agricultural GDP is reduced by four to 12 per cent because of environmental damage, the vast majority of which is due to land degradation, the study estimates. In Guatemala, this figure rises to 24 per cent, it adds.

Yet despite these impacts, inaccurate mapping can lead policymakers to underestimate some areas' vulnerability to land degradation, says Kellner...

Australia's Great Sandy Desert, from NASA. This is a false-color composite image made using shortwave-infrared, infrared, and red wavelengths.

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