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date: 16 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Development in deserts and arid lands, approximately 41 percent of the earth, has met with many failures. This chapter argues that a significant reason for these failures lies in the problematic notions of deserts that inform our understanding of arid lands. Our conceptions of these regions are most often as barren, defiled, parched places—wastelands with little value. These widespread perceptions of deserts, those that inform global development and anti-desertification agendas from local NGOs to government bureaucracies to international institutions such as the United Nations, derive primarily from Anglo-European notions of deserts that are centuries old. This western conception of arid lands is problematic for many scientific, social, and environmental reasons detailed in this chapter. The current belief that deserts are ruined wastelands needing improvement is ideologically informed, politically motivated, and has a deep history that must be understood in order to formulate sustainable development policies in arid lands.

Keywords: deserts, desertification, colonialism, indigenous peoples, Dust Bowl, drought, famine, African Sahel, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

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