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Desertification and Drought

JRC’s work in the field of drought and desertification includes the evaluation of land degradation, regionally as well as globally, meteorological drought monitoring and forecasting and assessment of the water supply throughout Europe and Globally.

Drought and desertification are closely related phenomena. Persisting for months or even years, drought affects large areas and has severe impacts on all key socio-economic sectors, as well as ecosystems. Drought is a climate extreme, associated with climate variability and climate change. Drought and its impacts can be exacerbated by human activities that are not adapted to the local climate and/or soil type.

Land degradation is the process of turning fertile land into less or non-productive land. In extreme cases, in drylands, this is called desertification. Land degradation and desertification are complex phenomena, often driven by unsustainable human activities and in combination with land and climatic constraints. Inappropriate land use, unsustainable land and agricultural management practices, overexploitation of water resources are all factors contributing to land degradation. 

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, duration and severity of droughts in many parts of the world. Such changing conditions may lead to an accelerated rate of land degradation and desertification which, in turn, may increase poverty and induce migration. 

The JRC studies different aspects of these coupled human-environmental phenomena, by monitoring and assessing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) from regional to global scales. JRC research on drought and desertification is relevant for the implementation of international conventions such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and for the development of pro-active risk management practices at national and regional scales. It further contributes to improved water and food security and to the provision of assistance to developing countries. Furthermore, JRC runs the European and Global Drought observatories, provides a desertification atlas, assesses and monitors potential anomalies in global agricultural production. It also collaborates with sister institutes especially in Africa, South America and Europe.

World Atlas of Desertification

As the world develops economically and its population increases, pressure on land resources is increasing too. Poor land management leads to land degradation, which reduces its capacity to carry out basic services, such as food production, its economic value, and its biological and cultural diversity. Desertification, an extreme form of land degradation, is linked to climate change and biodiversity loss. Land degradation causes a decline in land productivity and is therefore likely to lead to increased levels of poverty.

The JRC develops integrated methodologies and indicators for assessing and mapping DLDD, which are being used to compile the new World Atlas of Desertification. This atlas, which is coordinated by the JRC and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), illustrates a holistic concept for assessment and monitoring of DLDD and brings scientific advancements into the policy arena for better decision making and mitigation of land degradation and desertification.

European and Global Drought Observatories

The JRC developed, manages and improves the European and Global Drought Observatories (EDO and GDO), an essential component of the Copernicus Emergency Management System. They provide timely and consistent information on droughts in Europe and globally. In EDO, JRC uses different sources of data (e.g. ground weather stations, satellite) and forecast (e.g., seasonal climate predictions) to detect, monitor, and predict drought events. EDO also monitors daily temperature data to detect heat- and cold waves. The services are complemented with information processed by national, regional and local organisations. GDO provides a slightly coarser but global overview of droughts. GDO also benefits from detailed local-to-regional information from partners in Africa and South America. Moreover, GDO offers a historic overview of drought events since 1950.

A new project 'EDORA' is focusing on impacts and risks of Drought in Europe, it assists member states and also river basin authorities in setting up monitoring systems.

East African Drought Watch Mapviewer show drought in Somalia
East African Drought Watch

Water and Food Security

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 815 million people worldwide are chronically food-insecure, while a further 5-10% of the population is at risk of “acute” food insecurity by natural and/or man-made crises.

The dramatic increase in population, but also wars and conflicts puts additional stress on global food security, highlighting a need for comprehensive, systematic and accurate global agricultural monitoring activities. The European Union plays a leading role in the international donor community with a yearly contribution of 500 million Euro.

The JRC’s tools are used for crop monitoring and yield forecasting, using near-real-time Earth observation and meteorological data. The JRC has developed specific applications to extract relevant indicators, detect anomalies and produce early warning bulletins throughout the crop season, anticipating hotspots for food insecurity risks, and making production forecasts one month before the harvest.

More information:

Agricultural Anomaly Hotspots


More on Agricultural Monitoring

More on Floods

More on Wildfires

Related Documents

Monthly reports on imminent droughts

Global Assessment special Report on Drought from UNDRR

Combined Drought Index of Mid February 2022
EDO Mapping interface displaying Combined Drought Index
European Commission