Desertification and drought

Drought and desertification are closely related phenomena. Persisting over months or years, drought can affect large areas and may have serious environmental, social and economic impacts. While drought is a natural phenomenon, whose impacts can be exacerbated by human activities that are not adapted to the local climate, land degradation is the process of turning fertile land into less or non-productive land. In extreme cases in drylands this is called desertification. Land degradation and desertification are complex phenomena driven by un-adapted human activity in combination with land and climatic constraints. Inappropriate land use, such as monocultures, and unsustainable land management practices, such as deforestation, unsuitable agricultural practices and  overexploitation of water resources), can cause land degradation that can be further aggravated by drought.

Climate change is expected to increase frequency, duration and severity of droughts in many parts of the world. Such changing conditions add to already stressing land use globally and especially in the world’s fragile drylands. This may lead to an accelerated rate of land degradation and desertification which, in turn, is likely to increase poverty.

The JRC studies different aspects of these coupled human-environmental phenomena by monitoring and assessing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) from regional to global scales.

The JRC’s research on drought and desertification is relevant for the implementation of international conventions such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and for the development of pro-active risk management at national and regional scales. It futher contributes to improved water and food security and to the provision of assistance to developing countries.

Euronews Futuris series: Drought alert in Africa


World Atlas of Desertification

As the world develops economically and its population increases, pressure on land resources is increasing. Poor land management leads to land degradation, which reduces its capacity to carry out basic services, such as food production, its economic value, and its biological and cultural diversity. Desertification, an extreme form of land degradation, is a global phenomenon that is influenced by and has an impact on climate change and biodiversity loss. Land degradation causes a decline in land productivity and is therefore likely to lead to increased levels of poverty. 

European Drought Observatory

The JRC developed and manages the European Drought Observatory (EDO), which provides timely and consistent information on droughts in Europe. In EDO the JRC compiles a series of drought indicators for the entire European continent. These indicators are based on meteorological and satellite data, as well as on hydrological simulation models, thus allowing mapping and tracing the evolution of ongoing droughts. The continental indicators are complemented with drought indicators prepared by national, regional or local organizations for their area of competence in order to provide more detailed information needed for management purposes.

Water and Food Security

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 815 million people worldwide are chronically food-insecure, while a further 5-10% of the population is at risk of “acute” food insecurity by natural and manmade crises.

ACP Observatory

The JRC carries out extensive work in support of EU development policies in the ACP (Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific) countries. It produces scientific reference material, delivers warning systems about floods, fires and droughts, provides added-value information to decision-makers, and gives technical advice on development projects, capacity-building, and networking in Europe and Africa.