When you hear the word 'desert', what picture does it bring to mind?  Perhaps you think of a very dry place, a place without people or plants living there. In fact, a deserted place. 

What can be done

There are no quick solutions to the problems. Deserts can be reclaimed but first water supplies must be established. Then trees need to be planted to regulate the supply of water in the soil and to "fix" it in place. The free grazing of animals has to be stopped. For nomadic peoples, this can mean settling down on a piece of land and giving up their previous existence. Trees and water have to be carefully used and people need education on how to get the best from their land without overexploitation.

All of the above have to be done if an area of desert is to be turned into valuable agricultural land. Such measures would cost a staggering amount of money in the Sahel alone. For now, the West seems content to view the problems in Africa as tragic, but distant. We provide food aid but there is not enough to go round. What is needed is land reclamation and proper training for the people who are to farm the land. This would mean providing water and training for fifty million people.

If every family in Britain spent £1 less each week on its food and gave this money instead to famine relief, think of the work that could be done to save areas of land from becoming deserts. Imagine what could be done if this idea were taken up by the rest of the western world!

Clearly something has to be done. Natural deserts can be very beautiful, despite their hostile climate. We are creating deserts for ourselves now at a faster rate than Nature can. If action is not taken soon the consequences could be disastrous for us all.

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