Climate change and human health

Land degradation and desertification

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What is land degradation?

Land degradation is caused by multiple forces, including extreme weather conditions particularly drought, and human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility negatively affecting food production, livelihoods, and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services.

Threats to land integrity

Land degradation has accelerated during the 20th century due to increasing and combined pressures of agricultural and livestock production (over-cultivation, overgrazing, forest conversion), urbanization, deforestation, and extreme weather events such as droughts and coastal surges which salinate land. Desertification, is a form of land degradation, by which fertile land becomes desert.

What does land degradation mean for health?

These social and environmental processes are stressing the world's arable lands and pastures essential for the provision of food and water and quality air. Land degradation and desertification can affect human health through complex pathways. As land is degraded and in some places deserts expand, food production is reduced, water sources dry up and populations are pressured to move to more hospitable areas. The potential impacts of desertification on health include:

  • higher threats of malnutrition from reduced food and water supplies;
  • more water- and food-borne diseases that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water;
  • respiratory diseases caused by atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants;
  • the spread of infectious diseases as populations migrate.

Actions to protect health by protecting the environment

Resources and documents