COMMENTARY: Desertification threatens rural economies

SHARE   |   Monday, 12 October 2015   |   By Staff Writer

Botswana is a semi-arid country with erratic rainfall and limited surface water resources. The country’s proximity to the subtropical high-pressure belt of the southern hemisphere accounts for its largely arid or semi-arid climatic regime. Already the Department of Meteorological Services has projected normal to below-normal rainfall for all parts of the country.
The aridity of the country and the scarcity of water resources necessitate prudent management of the resource. This in turn necessitates conscientious monitoring of water resource use and availability. Climatic conditions largely determine the availability of water through rainfall and evaporation trends. Botswana has only nine dams from which surface water is sourced. Monthly rainfall trends are in consonance with Botswana’s seasonal variations with the winter months of June and July normally being dry. Rainfall during these months is an unusual occurrence. The wet season begins in October and ends in March.  According to the Department of Meteorological Services (DMS), who measure rainfall, the year 2010/11 was the wettest, followed by the years 2012/13 and 2011/12 respectively.
Such aridity and long spells of drought makes our environment susceptible to degradation and resource depletion-desertification, which in turn have negative impacts on Botswana’s rural economy. Approximately 91 000 square kilometers or 15.5 percent of Botswana is affected by land degradation or desertification. Already desertification has shown negative impacts in areas like the Kgalagadi region where grazing lands are fast depleting. In Botswana, desertification status is a great concern and therefore the implementation of the provisions of the convention to combat desertification is crucial in our country. The impact on grazing lands and forest resources caused by the human population expansion, increase of livestock and wildlife herds exacerbated by the continual occurrence of droughts are significant rural development planning issues. Being heavily reliant on beef production for local and international consumption, the country is highly dependent on agriculture and especially livestock farming. 
It is for this reason that environmental conservation measures need to be put in place as soon as possible to combat growing desertification. As noted during the World Day to Combat desertification recently under the theme "Attaining food security for all through sustainable food systems",  this phenomena has a negative impact on affected communities and may lead to wide spread poverty, hunger and migration of the population.  In 1994, the UN general assembly declared June 17 the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. During the 2014/15 farming season, most crops were destroyed due to poor rains combined with a heat wave for the better last quarter of the period. And it is believed that poor rainfall patterns are a result of the desertification threats. The country’s population or inhabitants depend on biodiversity and ecosystem services for their daily needs and for the nation’s economic and cultural development. This does not only include food production and wild harvesting but other activities such as industry, tourism and handcrafts. Land degradation and climate change are having significant and irreversible impacts on biodiversity around the world.
Causes of land degradation, which is already causing sleepless nights in many parts of the country, include illegal sand mining, which has left gaping gullies all over. This destruction together with deforestation has made it easy for flowing water to cause erosion.

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