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Threats to soil

Deforestation in Bolivia from space. Image credit and copyright: NASA Johnson Space Center - Earth Sciences and Image Analysis (NASA-JSC-ES&IA) There is a strong dependence on our world soils. We have shown in the Soil Functions section that the soil provides many functions. It provides for our food, whether on the farm or in the garden; much of our wildlife including the wonderful array of wild flowers and trees; it is the home for a remarkable array of organisms, including many we have yet to discover; it stores and filters water which eventually becomes our drinking water; it provides a foundation for our towns and villages, and has done this since humans first appeared on earth; and last but not least it is an important key to global well-being.

The world population is currently increasing at a fast rate. It has gone from about 1 billion people in 1800, to 3 billion by 1960, to 6 billion by 2000 and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. All these people will be relying on the soil to provide all those useful functions mentioned above and ultimately for their survival. This means that we need to look after our soils to ensure that they can support this growing population.

Land fill can cause pollution if not correctly managed. Already in the last 50 years there has been increasing evidence of mismanagement of our soils. Whether through ignorance or through mismanagement of the land, there is abundant evidence of damage to this precious resource worldwide. Soil erosion and desertification is widespread and affecting millions of hectares of land. Desertification and salinisation are causing major problems in the drier parts of the world. Pollution either directly to the soil or by way of acid rain from the atmosphere is a problem in some areas, not only affecting the soil but leaving the soil to cause pollution to water bodies and loss of aquatic life. Intensive farming, while producing increasing crop yields to feed the growing population, has put increasing pressure on the soil and this has led to soil degradation. It is more and more important that we understand the pressures that we are putting on our soils and take steps to safeguard them as we go into the future. This Section describes some of the threats to our soils, how we can deal them and how important it is that there is a global approach to managing our soils for future generations.