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Desertification Spain


An estimated 115 million hectares or 12% of Europe’s total land area are subject to water erosion, and 42 million hectares are affected by wind erosion. An estimated 45% of European soils have low organic matter content, principally in Southern Europe but also in areas of France, the UK and Germany (7).

At large part of Spanish territory suffers from desertification. Different numbers are being reported: one fifth of the land is currently at risk of turning into deserts (1); 31.5% of the land is already affected by desertification (2). In the Guadalquivir river basin, for instance, years of over-abstraction to irrigate rice fields and olive groves have led to serious water deficits (3). In coastal areas, the water shortage and land-loss problem could be exacerbated by sea-level rise and subsequent salinisation processes (1).

Desertification at present is mainly due to forest fires, the loss of soil fertility of irrigated land by salinization, and erosion. Climate change will deteriorate soil fertility through a loss of carbon from the soil (4,6,8).

Climatic conditions make the Mediterranean region one of the areas most severely affected by land degradation. 12 of the 27 European Union Member States declared themselves as affected countries under the 1992 United Nation Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD): in the Mediterranean: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain and in central and eastern Europe: Hungary, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Romania (5).

In currently affected areas, desertification is likely to become irreversible if the environment becomes drier; the pressure from human activities will increase and the soil will be further degraded (5).

Adaptation strategies

Desertification can be combated through irrigation and reafforestation (2).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Spain.

  1. Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  2. Comisión de Coordinación de Políticas de Cambio Climático (2007)
  3. Dworak et al. (2007b), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  4. Government of Spain. Quinta Comunicación Nacional de España
  5. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  6. IPCC (2007), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  7. European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
  8. IPCC (2014)