Creeping Deserts. and Vanishing Forests
About 19 per cent of the earth's surface - 20 million sq km - and 80 million people are under direct threat of desertification - the destruction of once arable land by:
• over cultivation
• overgrazing and
• Improper irrigation
60,000 sq km of land are lost yearly - 650,000 sq km of productive land has been lost in the Southern Sahara over the last 50 years. In the Sudan the desert advanced by 100km from 1958 to 1975.
The world's most moist tropical rainforests are being cleared at the rate of 14 hectares per minute or 7.3 million hectares a year - mainly for agriculture and logging. As a result fragile tropical soils are being turned into wastelands, many tribal peoples are being decimated and thousands of unique plant and animal species are being destroyed.
Most trees are lost to agriculture rather than timber cutting. Peasants are forced to clear new farmland because available land is owned by large land-owners who grow crops for export. So forests act as safety valves for governments and the rich who wish to avoid land reform.
• 75% of all Central American forests have been destroyed since 1975 to produce beef for export to the US. Over the same period beef consumtion in Guatemala fell by half.
• In Java 85% of the population is landless. A government policy to move 500,000 people to other heavily forested Indonesian islands is well under way.