Desertification and Drought: An Issue Even in the Tropical Zone

Saturday, June 17th is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, an occasion that has been observed since 1995 to raise awareness about desertification. One of the biggest and least understood environmental challenges facing the globe, desertification refers to the irreversible degradation of soil through human activities such as deforestation, unsustainable farming, mining and overgrazing. It occurs when trees and root systems that bind the soil are removed, exposing topsoil to erosion, and when unsustainable farming practices severely deplete nutrients. All that remains is an infertile mix of dust and sand that transforms fragile ecosystems into barren deserts.

Deforestation, which is a leading cause of desertification, is a serious prevailing issue in Cambodia. Satellite data from the Global Forest Watch has revealed that Cambodia has lost 1.75 million hectares (4.32 million acres) of forest since 2001 and the country has some of the fastest accelerating rates of tree loss in the world. This rampant deforestation not only leads to desertification, but also contributes to drought and flash floods. Without forest cover, less water is released into the atmosphere to form clouds and rain. Trees are also very important for regulating water flow into rivers and help maintain higher water levels in the rivers during the dry seasons. Conversely, during the rainy season, there are more floods because there are no trees to soak up the water and the degraded soil is less absorbent. In recent years, Cambodians have been experiencing much more extreme wet and dry seasons and recently experienced the worst drought in half a century.

Since 2001, Wildlife Alliance has preserved nearly 2 million acres of forestland and planted over 733,000 trees. Through advocacy, reforestation and law-enforcement, we work tirelessly to preserve remaining forest cover and reconnect the canopy in the Southern Cardamom Mountains for the people and animals that depend on it. Our Community Agriculture Development Project incorporates sustainable farming practices into its land management strategy to empower local people to earn an income that doesn’t depend on stripping the forest of its resources. Through forest protection and sustainable land management, we are working to not only prevent desertification, but also mitigate food and water shortages related to climate change. You can help us preserve Cambodia’s remaining forests by donating to our forest protection program or our sustainable livelihoods program!

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