The problem of desertification and land degradation is relevant to all the countries of Central Asia and is recognized as one of the regional priorities.
According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification is defined as “degradation of lands in droughty, semiarid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate change and man-caused factors” (UNCCD Art 1a).
Land degradation means the “reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rainfed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination of processes, including processes arising from human activities and habitation patterns” (UNCCD Art. 1f).
Yet, the Eurasian temperate deserts are threatened by degradation processes initiated through overexploitation of natural resources, e.g. firewood collection, inappropriate grazing practices and large-scale infrastructure development.
Another important aspect with the vulnerable ecosystem temperate deserts: Unsustainable anthropogenic development may bring troubles to neighboring arable land and human settlements. Many areas in Central Asia already suffer from dust storms, which are born in degraded deserts.
The drying up of the Aral Sea and the conversion of large areas of the former sea to sand has led to intense dust storms that cause considerable damage to nearby agricultural regions and human health.
From the 1950s until today, the Saxaul vegetation has been degraded through logging and over-grazing. According to the most recent estimates the area covered by Saxaul vegetation in the three countries Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan has been reduced to 116,865 km2 what is approximately 25% of the natural distribution of Saxaul dominated vegetation. This has enormous consequences for the biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services of the Eurasian temperate deserts.
In the last years, the countries of Central Asia have made great efforts in combating land degradation and desertification. In the scope of CADI – especially in the work package II –, the target countries shall be supported by measures on sustainable land management.