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       Monday, June 05, 2006

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United Nations Report: Deserts threatened by global warming

June 5, 2006 

Libyan Desert: The UNEP says the world's deserts are under threat.

A new report, entitled "Global Deserts Outlook," has been released on World Environment Day by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report suggests that the world's deserts face dramatic changes as a result of global climate change, high water demands, tourism and salt contamination of irrigated soils. The UNEP say desert margins and mountainous areas within deserts that have been important for people, wildlife and water supplies for millennia, are under particular threat.

2006 is the United Nations' International Year of Deserts and Desertification. Some experts believe deserts could become the "carbon-free power houses of the 21st century." They argue that an area 800 by 800 km of a desert such as the Sahara could capture enough solar energy to generate all the world's electricity needs and more.

The report, prepared by experts from across the globe, flags options that may help governments and relevant bodies deliver a more sustainable future for the Earth's desert regions.

Shafqat Kakakhel, UNEP's Officer in Charge and Deputy Executive Director, said: "There are many popular and sometimes misplaced views of deserts which this report either confirms or overturns. Far from being barren wastelands, they emerge as biologically, economically and culturally dynamic while being increasingly subject to the impacts and pressures of the modern world".

"If the huge, solar-power potential of deserts can be economically harnessed the world has a future free from fossil fuels. And tourism based around desert nature can, if sensitively managed, deliver new prospects and perspectives for people in some of the poorest parts of the world," said Mr Kakakhel.

Almost one-quarter of the earth's land surface - some 33.7 million square kilometres - has been defined as "desert" in some sense. These deserts are inhabited by over 500 million people, significantly more than previously thought. The desert cores remain pristine in many parts of the world, representing some of the planet's "last remaining areas of total wilderness," stated the UNEP in a news release.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who advise governments and the United Nations, have reported that temperatures in deserts could rise by an average of as much as five to seven degrees by 2100. UNEP say the problem will almost certainly be compounded by the melting of glaciers - whose waters sustain many deserts.

UNEP report that the impacts of climate change include the transformation of semi-arid rangelands into deserts. They say water supplies are under threat from salinization and pollution by pesticides and herbicides, and that rising water-tables beneath irrigated soils has led to more salinization of soils.

The report shows that in some coastal areas ground-water supplies have been contaminated as seawater invades subsurface waters. Large rivers running through deserts have supported desert people for millennia, but many have been dammed, with water losses downstream leading to serious impacts on floodplain and river ecology.

The Global Deserts Outlook reports that desert species are on the brink of extinction - including various species of gazelle, oryx, addax, Arabian tahr and the Barbary sheep as well as one of the falconers favourite prey, the Houbara. "At greatest risk are the few patches of dry woodlands associated with desert mountain habitats which may decline by up to 3.5 per cent per year,"

Desert wetlands, fed by the large rivers crossing deserts, are probably the most threatened ecosystem, as a result of their valuable water supplies being diverted to domestic or agricultural use. Probable impacts include those created by roads, settlement expansion and other infrastructure developments around desert montane areas. The report estimates that desert wilderness - those areas where there are no nearby roads, will decline from just under 60 per cent of the current total desert area to just over 30 per cent by 2050.

The report also suggests that the pharmaceutical potential of desert plants has yet to be tapped. Scientists across the globe are analysing many desert plants for potential medicinal compounds - including anti-cancer and anti-malarial substances, antioxidants, as well as appetite suppressants.


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posted by Robert at 2:42 AM  


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