As severe desertification hits the Gobi Desert and temperatures there rise at a rate twice the global average, it is not only the largely nomadic desert population who suffer — the desertification is also causing an increase in vicious dust storms as far away as Seoul, South Korea. To fight the problem, South Korean activist and former ambassador to China Kwon Byong Hyon founded Future Forest, an organization devoted to planting trees throughout the Mongolian and Chinese Deserts in an effort to slow desertification and reduce the widespread negative health impacts the dust storms cause throughout the region.

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Perhaps one of the lesser discussed environmental threats, desertification is defined by the UN as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.” Listing desertification as one of the “greatest challenges to sustainable development,” and a contributing factor to loss of biodiversity and global warming, the UN formed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in 1994, and named Kwon their first “Sustainable Land Management Champion.”

As desertification reduces farm and grazing land in the desert, it causes increasingly furious sandstorms to whip up and carry over into China and Korea. When these “Yellow Dragons” come, described The World “the noxious dust exacerbates asthma and sends people with heart problems to the hospital. It seeps into machinery, forcing factories to shut and grounding airplanes.”

Prior to tackling the Gobi Desert, Kwon and Future Forest undertook to plant a “Great Green Wall” in China’s Kubuqi Desert, which included over four million trees, shrubs and grasses aimed at slowing the desert’s expansion. While the trees help to prevent erosion, preserve water sources and dampen dust storms, they can also have wider positive effects on the local community. The UNCCD described to the Guardian how a similar project in Africa could also “provide energy resources; fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs [and] support local economic development.”

+ Future Forest (Korean)

Via TreeHugger

Lead Image © flickr user Mark Fischer