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Outline the main controversies involved in the desertification debate Despite the fact that desertification is not a new concept having occurred for millennia Grainger 1990 or since the Neolithic Spooner 1985 it has only in the last three or four decades been thrust into the limelight It was conceptualised as a serious problem for the first time in the 1970s upon the recognition of the varying patterns of spatial desert conditions especially in the Sahel where such changes coincided with a period of sustained drought It was perhaps the first big environmental issue Thomas Middleton 1994 which encompassed not only environmental issues but also wider social political and economic angles It is thus no surprise that its study interpretation and extent are clouded with controversy as the complexity of the issue does not lead to any universally accepted and agreed explanations of the phenomenon This complexity is further hampered by our practical inability to extrapolate individual causes and effects from what is in reality an interactive multi-factorial system Desertification is fraught with confusions and contradictions generalisations based on a lack of data and uncertainties stated as facts Thomas Middleton 1994 Similarly concern arises as to the spatial areas of vulnerability to desertification their areal extent and the temporal nature of the phenomena which will set it apart from the naturally variable and stochastic nature of climate in drylands and emphasise its irreversibility Semi-arid areas are more at risk to the supposed effects of desertification as these form the desert arid borders which are where desertification was initially believed to operate The United Nations Environmental Programme UNEP believes that 35 of the world is at risk to desertification with especial risk for the 22 countries in the Sahel region forming the southern border of the Sahara It is here that desertification gained its current profile in part as the result of the disastrous and well documented periods of famine that
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