Deserts and drylands are often far from the barren images they are known for. These ecosystems play a vital role in climate regulation – nearly 46% of global carbon is stored in drylands. Despite the harsh conditions, they are home to over 2 billion people and harbor some of the world’s rarest biodiversity. Many deserts contain hidden water bodies that sustain several species of flora and fauna.
To raise awareness about these unique but often overlooked ecosystems; the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) has launched in 2021 a Wild for Life virtual journey through three unique deserts: the rocky Gobi Desert in Central Asia; Wadi Rum in Jordan and the expansive Sahara Desert.
The blazing sand dunes in the deserts provide nature-based livelihoods for local communities through eco-tourism. However, climate change, combined with erosion and degradation of surrounding areas, is causing these deserts to expand.
Sustainable pastoralism, by herding communities, helps combat desertification, land degradation and drought in rangelands; while conserving biodiversity and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. With one million species are at risk of extinction, biodiversity is a crucial priority for UNEP. As the world faces the stark reality that none of the Aichi targets were met and prepares for a new, ambitious post-2020 framework, the issue is gaining urgency and international momentum.
The virtual desert journey showcases how these valuable ecosystems contribute to biodiversity – and the human activities that are threatening their survival.
Users who choose to venture into the Gobi Desert will have the opportunity to explore the 1.3 million square kilometer wide landscape – the fourth largest desert in the world. In spite of its harsh climate conditions, nomadic pastoralism—when people migrate within a territory to find pastures for their livestock—is the dominant livelihood in the desert.
Those who opt to explore Wadi Rum in Southern Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will virtually experience its red sand dunes and splendid rock formations, while learning that poor waste management of tourist activities and off-roading sports are putting the desert at risk of degradation.
The third immersive experience – the Sahara – is the largest hot desert in the world, spanning 9.4 million square kilometers across 11 countries in North Africa. Users will discover that the Sahara is home to abundant biodiversity: 500 plant species, 70 mammalian species, 100 reptilian species, 90 avian species, and several arthropods – such as spiders and scorpions.
The desert journey is one of six Wild for Life expeditions through distinct ecosystems — oceans, peatlands, savannahs, forests and mountains — to learn how they produce vital goods and services for humanity and the threats they face and how you can help. The Wild for Life Campaign, is a global effort, led by the UNEP, to raise awareness about the threats to wild animals and their habitats.