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The International Convention to Combat Desertification, signed by more than 100 countries, is in force from 26 December 1996.


Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 23/09/2015

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

During the Rio-92, several countries with desertification problems proposed that the General Assembly should approve the negotiation of an International Convention on the subject. The plea was approved, and the Convention was held between January 1993 and 17 June 1994, which date was from then on considered as the World Day to Combat Desertification.

The International Convention to Combat Desertification, signed by more than 100 countries, is in force from 26 December 1996. Ten years after, the year 2006 was declared by the United Nations (UN) as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

In the last few decades, a significant increase in the process has been occurring throughout the world. The most affected areas are the West of South America, the Middle East, Southern Africa, Northeastern China, Southeastern United States, Australia and Southern Asia.

According to the World Atlas of Desertification, published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the most susceptible areas in Brazil are situated in the Northeast region and in Northern Minas Gerais, in the so-called Draught Polygon. The area corresponds to 13% of the national territory, where approximately 17% of the Brazilian population lives. The climatic conditions of the sertão region – of semi-arid weather, characterized essentially by an irregular distribution of rain - favor the process of desertification.

According to the map of susceptibility to desertification in Brazil, made by the Environment Ministry (MMA), from a total of 980,711.58 km2 of susceptible areas, 238,644.47 km2 are considered of very high level; 384,029.71 km2 high and 358,037.40 km2 are moderately susceptible.

The most affected regions are Gilbués, in Piauí, considered the largest desertification nucleus in Latin America; Seridó, situated between the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba; Irauçuba, in Ceará, and Cabrobó, in the sertão of Pernambuco. With 40% of its territory hit by desertification, Rio Grande do Norte is the Brazilian state most affected by the problem.

Basically, the causes of desertification in Northeastern Brazil are not the same as in other parts of the world: the inappropriate use of vegetable resources, through deforesting; the use of inappropriate practices of soil management, such as overgrazing and excessive tillage; introduction of modern irrigation and agroindustry processes without the necessary precautions regarding environmental impacts of the use of hydric resources, of mechanized agriculture and of the use of pesticides, promoting erosion and the salinization of the soil, besides poorly planned and short-sighted regional development models, causing socio-economic problems, also increased by the existence of periodic draught. 

The process of desertification brings damaging consequences for the environment and for quality of life on the planet, among others, the reduction of biodiversity, the genetic heritage of the region, through the elimination of original vegetal covering (de-foresting); partial or total loss of soil (erosion, salinization or alkalization) or a decrease in fertility and productivity; quantitative and qualitative decrease of hydric resources; socio-economic problems with loss from the decrease in food production or harvest shortfalls; increased unemployment, leading the population without perspectives to migrate to urban centers, increasing infra-structure problems for these cities (transport, sanitation, supply), besides the increase in urban violence.

Desertification, therefore, increases regional unbalance, mainly concerning the economic and social development of the poorest regions in the world. 

On the African continent, Burkina-Faso, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal are the most affected countries.

In 2004, the Program of National Action to Combat Desertification and Mitigate the Effects of Draught (PAN-Brasil) was created by the Environment Ministry (MMA) with the objective of seeking the sustainable development of affected areas, decreasing the process of desertification in the country.

To try to minimize the process, experts say, it is necessary to encourage re-forestation; fight erosion; invest in education and technical assistance to the small and medium rural producer; perform a political revision in the land distribution system; map the environment conservation units and encourage regional tourism and eco-tourism.

Recife, 27 February 2012.

sources consulted

CAUSAS e consequências  da desertificação no Brasil.  Disponível em:
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DESERTIFICAÇÃO no Brasil, 2012. Disponível em:
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DESERTIFICAÇÃO no Brasil atinge mais de 20 milhões, 2006. Disponível em:
<>. Acesso em: 24 fev. 2012.

SANTOS, Antoir Mendes. O desmatamento no semiárido nordestino. Disponível em:
<>. Acesso em: 24 fev. 2012.

SEMINÁRIO SOBRE DESERTIFICAÇÃO NO NORDESTE, 1986, Recife. Documento final. Brasília: SEMA, 1986.  

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Desertification. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.