Brussels, 15 Apr 2005
The European Union is investing 8 million euro in a new Integrated Project focused on land degradation and desertification in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, representing one of the largest commitments ever made to a single research project on the issue.
Despite the fact that desertification and land destruction are seen as global threats, there are still no widely accepted diagnostic methods for use in planning and combating them.
The DeSurvey Integrated Project aims to address this by developing and testing a new system for monitoring and modelling desertification and land destruction in the context of climate change, the relationship between man and the environment, and the vulnerability of particular landscapes to degradation.
As Ulf Helldén, a project member from Lund University in Sweden, explains: 'One of the reasons it has been so difficult to map [...] desertification and land degradation is that it is a politically sensitive issue. It involves the politics of developmental assistance, with powerful players like the World Bank and various UN bodies that have differing angles and interests.'
Professor Helldén was one of the first researchers to demonstrate that desertification is not an irreversible phenomenon. For example, the southward 'march' of the Sahara in previous years was due to exceptionally low precipitation, but in the past two decades the rainfall has returned to normal and the desert has receded.
Within the EU, the region where the issue of desertification is most pressing is in the Mediterranean. 'Especially Spain, Portugal, Greece, and to some extent Italy are experiencing severe problems of land destruction,' explains Professor Helldén. 'There is a shortage of water, and the question is how to use it most economically. The EU also needs a better foundation for determining its agricultural subsidies for these areas.'
Outside Europe, the DeSurvey project will also include work in China, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal and Chile, thanks to the participation of research organisations in each of these countries alongside the ten EU partners. The project is funded under the 'Global change and ecosystems' priority of the Sixth Framework Programme.
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