|Vulnerability to water and wind erosion:
Latin America and the Caribbean
Erosion is the main cause of land degradation
in the region, affecting 14.3 per cent of South America and 26 per
cent of Meso- America
Source: USDA 2001a and 2001b
Erosion is the main cause of land degradation in
Latin America, affecting 14.3 per cent of the territory in South America
and 26 per cent in Central America (Oldeman 1994). Nutrient depletion
is also a serious issue, largely driven by agricultural intensification.
In South America, the depletion of nutrients from the soil had affected
68.2 million ha by 1980 (Scherr and Yadav 1997). This depletion has exacerbated
poverty which, in turn, has contributed to greater environmental degradation
and land deterioration.
Chemical soil pollution is increasingly significant given the intensification
of agriculture and the use of pesticides during the past 30 years. Agricultural
technology has increased production throughout the region but at a high
cost to the environment. Of great concern is the impact of agrochemical
pollution on soil and water and, as a consequence, on human health. Soil
and water nitrification is linked to the use of chemical fertilizers which
increased from 3.7 to 10.9 million tonnes during 1972-97 (FAOSTAT 2001).
Salinization is a particularly significant form of soil degradation because
it is difficult to treat and can lead to desertification. Salinization
caused by irrigation affects 18.4 million ha in the region, particularly
in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru (AQUASTAT 1997).
The problems of land degradation have been discussed in regional and
international fora for several decades. Following the 1992 United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development, work on new conventions and
agreements started to seek regional and sub-regional solutions. For example,
the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
(UNCCD), together with UNEP and the government of Mexico, established
a Regional Coordination Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean to coordinate
the work of national focal points in preparing national action programmes.
These actions encouraged several countries to set up similar programmes
and have led to the creation of monitoring systems (UNEP/ROLAC 1999, Universidad
de Buenos Aires 1999). The Amazonian Pact, the Sustainable Development
Commission, the Central American Integration System and the Andean Pact
are examples of sub-regional mechanisms that have paved the way for agreements
and have promoted monitoring and control systems to prevent land degradation.