With the majority of news broadcasts covering incidents of death, disease, and destruction, the major threat of desertification to the lives of millions around the world is often overlooked. However, on June 17—officially marked World Day to Combat Desertification—Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon made it his personal mission to emphasize the danger of encroaching deserts, especially to populations already marginalized by poverty. A process that is accelerating rapidly as a result of climate change, desertification is an issue that, like many others, will disproportionately affect the poor. According to Mr. Ban’s statement, by 2050, an estimated 200 million people, particularly those who lack the capacity to adapt, will become environmentally-induced migrants. The resultant extent of displacement in turn will set the stage for increased instability and conflict in those regions hardest hit.
As the average surface temperature of the planet continues to rise, increased periods of drought and famine will deepen poverty, and as a consequence, reverse any progress made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Further land degradation is sure to incite a greater incidence of transnational and intrastate conflicts as displaced populations fight to secure their most basic needs. While these conflicts may occur under the pretense of cultural and religious differences, the underlying environmental factors must be addressed. Simply put, regardless of cause, climate change is real, and its portended effects can and will be devastating. Something most be done to reverse environmental degradation; if not, a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions may be inevitable.