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Reader's Guide

This report is an effort to summarize and assess what we know about the challenges of the desert world. The report is organized into six sections:

Chapter 1 describes the natural history and evolution of the world’s deserts from a strictly ecological perspective. It shows how deserts function at a global scale, discusses the reasons of their unique richness in rare and endemic species, and analyzes their vulnerability to extinction and environmental degradation.

Chapter 2 discusses the interaction between people and deserts, both from the point of view of traditional livelihoods and from the perspective of modern desert development. It shows how people have lived in deserts for millennia and discusses the current challenges faced by these cultures for their survival. It also analyzes how people now increasingly live in desert cities or enjoy deserts temporarily for tourism or recreation.

Chapter 3 investigates the role of deserts in the planet, analyzing the linkages and interactions between deserts and non-desert environments. In an integrative fashion, it discusses global-scale connections in global climate and climate change, the influence of dust generated in deserts on the global environment, the dynamics of rivers that originate outside deserts but flow through them, the export of minerals and fossil energy from deserts to non-desert economies, the role of deserts in human transport and wildlife migration, and, finally, the role of desert research in our knowledge of the planet, of life on earth, and of peoples and their cultures.

Chapter 4 presents a general description of the environmental status of the world deserts, describing their extent, location, uniqueness, vulnerability, status of their natural resources and biodiversity, and intensity of the human footprint in their ecosystems. It analyzes the trends in land use and land degradation, and discusses the impact of land degradation in desert communities and the responses to this problem that have arisen within the international community, and also at regional and national levels.

Chapter 5 discusses the challenges confronted by deserts for their survival and development, and the opportunities that exist for sustainable development in the upcoming decades. To approach the issue, the chapter analyzes the forces that drive change in deserts, such as population, investment, or climate change, then discusses the options that exist for sustainable development with respect to problems such as water consumption and land use, and, finally, examines the opportunities that exist for the conservation and sustainable use of soil, water, endangered habitats, and biodiversity.

Finally, Chapter 6 summarizes and wraps-up the whole book with an analysis of the global outlook for deserts and the options for action. Based on a detailed analysis of trends in population, resources, and climate, the chapter explores future scenarios for water, biodiversity, and land degradation. The chapter closes with a discussion on the policy options that could lead towards sustainable management of desert resources and the enhancement of human well-being in deserts.

The report also contains two detailed numerical appendices, compiled from various sources, listing all the desert ecoregions of the world within the six biogeographic realms where deserts occur. A summary of the main traits of each desert ecoregion is presented in these appendices, including desert type, area of the whole ecoregion, area converted and under protection, species richness for plants and vertebrates, richness of endemic and threatened vertebrates, human population density, and intensity of the “human footprint” on each particular ecoregion.

© UNEP 2006