Drylands cover 41.3% of the earth's land surface and are home to more than 2.1 billion people, "a third of the human population" of whom at least 90% live in countries suffering under the poorest living conditions. The livelihoods of more than 1 billion people in some 100 countries are threatened by desertification.

Nearly 1 billion of the poorest and most marginalized people, who live in the most vulnerable areas, may be the most severely affected by desertification. The Millennium Assessment found that in general, the human well-being of drylands people is lower than that of people in other ecological systems. For example, compared to other ecosystems, infant mortality rates are highest in drylands and gross national product (GNP) per capita lowest. This implies that drylands are home to populations with comparatively low levels of well-being.

Drylands are characterized by low annual mean and extreme fluctuations of rainfall, with doughts as an intrinsic part of the system. Aridity is associated with water availability or scarcity. It matters for human well-being and the two key functions of land, namely, primary production and nutrient recycling.

Water scarcity, the gap between its demand and supply, is highest in the drylands. Water scarcity increases with an increase in aridity. For basic well-being, each person requires a minimum of 2,000 cubic meters of water per year. Drylands people have access to 1,300 cubic meters only, and availability is projected to decrease. Today, water scarcity affects between 1-2 billion people, most of them in the drylands. Under the climate change scenario, nearly half of the world's population in 2030 will be living in areas of high water stress. In some arid and semi-arid areas, it will displace up to between 24 million and 700 million people.

Desertification refers to the land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. When land degradation happens in the world's drylands, it often creates desert-like conditions. Globally, 24% of the land is degrading. About 1.5 billion people directly depend on these degrading areas. Nearly 20% of the degrading land is cropland, and 20-25%, rangeland.

According to UN reports the persistent reduction in the capacity of ecosystems to provide services such as food, water and other necessities is leading to "a major decline in the well-being of currently estimated 100 to 200 million people in drylands, but threatening the lives and livelihoods of a much larger number". The resulting loss of income is estimated at US $65 billion annually. This is relevant to Pakistan, as it is a country with a predominantly arid to semi-arid climate and around 30 million have rangelands, of which approximately 85% have been classified as degraded, including the Cholistan Desert.

Cholistan is a dryland area with huge parts of sandy dunes laying remote and lacking almost every modern facility. It is occupied traditionally in mobile manner by the Seraiki ethnic group which keep ovine, bovine and dromedary. These pastoralists utilise ancient rainwater harvesting technology at here and there existing flat, dense and poorly drained soils and open-wells and they are adapted to the seasonal climatic stress by a nomadic or transhumant mobility behaviour.

Pastoralism or mobile animal husbandry is the prevalent form of land use in fragile dryland areas and has traditionally achieved a maximum adaptation of the human living pattern and their production to the spatial and temporal disequilibria of water and feed for livestock."It represents a complex form of natural resource management, involving the direct interaction between three systems in which pastoral people operate", i.e. the natural resource system, the resource users system and the larger geo-political and macro-economic.

Mobility is a highly efficient way of managing the sparse vegetation and relatively low fertility of dryland soils. "It depends on the presence of temporarily utilized lands, knowledge of ecosystem productivity potentials (and constraints), and capacities to negotiate or enforce access to these resources".

But during historical processes these (risk avoiding) practices have been disturbed. In many dryland countries, mobile pastoralists are large and often ethnic minorities. Despite this, mobile pastoralism is increasingly under threat from legal, economic, social and political disincentives and barriers to mobility of livestock. Pastoralists are usually adversely affected by the demarcation of political borders, often drawn through their traditional territories, and become segmented minorities and marginalized to remoteness. In the national-political context and governance structures, they experience great difficulty to articulate and represent their interests. This leads to tensions between the central state authorities and local pastoral groups about imported concepts of land use and local traditions. Basis development initiatives like land tenure reforms and the implementation of water development schemes are often the cause of disputes.

Before it, the colonial authorities were much interested in seizing pastoral lands and livestock and sought to control and tax their subjects while moving pastoralists off of prime arable lands. To control the resources of pastoralists, they instrumentalized group differences through 'divide-and-rule' strategies. The minor political power of the pronation-state regency in present-day Pakistan during the colonial era under the Britons marginalized the influence of the Cholistani pastoralists on plans for land use and distribution, so they have been inadequately represented in running the affairs of the area.

Policies of neglect or of forced integration have continued to further marginalization in most post-colonial states, as well as after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and the merging of Cholistan into the province of Punjab. Due to placing the emphasis on easing administration and service-delivery rather than maintaining mobility and integrity of seasonal grazing areas, states often favoured urban and fixed rural populations, with agricultural and food policies addressed to the needs of urban and village consumers, distorting markets through subsidies, barriers and taxation. These efforts, which failed to appreciate the fundamentals of pastoralism, resulted in the deterioration of environmental, economic and social conditions for many pastoral communities. "Pastoral marginalisation is also the result of global processes, involving structural adjustment, policy modernisation and economic liberalisation".

Because aid has flowed to central governments and not to local structures to assist community-based development, one can say that "the external assistance usually determines the extent to which the state actually intervenes in pastoral areas".  Market forces and commodisation of the pastoral economy are also relevant aspects of pastoral vulnerability.

Generally, favourable terms of trade for pastoral goods and services are no longer providing adequate compensation in times of need, during long dry seasons or periods of drought, when livestock conditions and prices deteriorate and costs for necessary staple purchases increase. The social and cultural value of livestock is not monetarised on international markets. But the growing market integration leads to changing nutritional patterns, migration routes, and relationships for resource management and social support which are based preconditionedly on monetary payments rather than on traditional reciprocity exchanges. This leaves space for exploitation, creates stress of social differentiation and insecurity and potentially fuels conflicts and violence.

This political and economic instability is part of the causal chain of desertification. The two primary driving forces are limited land resources and an increase in rural population (expansion of cultivator populations at the expense of herders), which combined produce land shortage and consequently poverty. The latter both together lead to non-sustainable land management practices (e.g. overgrazing, deforestation), which is the direct cause of degradation. The response is lower land productivity or a higher input need to maintain yields and farm income, which is equal to land shortage and thus completes the vicious circle.

With the rationale to prevent desertification the question comes up, how to develop opportunities to manage dryland resources sustainably, or better, how to empower pastoralists to do that and to satisfy their needs for nourishment, health, education, social interaction and other non-farm commodities. Therefore, the intention of the present article is to determine on the basis of sustainability if the responses of developmental institutions to the complex challenges of desertification and poverty in Cholistan led or will lead to an increase in the quality of ecology and livelihoods. The recent passed drought pointed out that current farming systems and the infrastructural frame in Cholistan are not in a position to cope with such complex hardships.

Following appearance of financial assistance for responsible institutions was provoked by this inevitable statement. But thereby the value of project plannings, the progress towards achieving development objectives and the effectiveness of resource use after implementation is not yet assured. Furthermore it is important to address skills and expectations of the local population and use traditional knowledge as well as scientific approaches to find solutions that associate development of human welfare with sustainable use of the natural environment. If one aspect remains neglected it could come to erroneous measures and thus the ecosystem could become further damaged in long term. It should be compulsory to regularly legitimise the targets of intervention projects by monitoring the activities and effects and evaluating the cornering predictability of the strategy.

The aftermath of the perennial, severe drought around the year 2000 was the trigger that directed large financial resources to the provincial government and its development organization which launched short- and long-term drought mitigation and development projects in Cholistan. The interventions on which was focussed are improvements of water supply techniques (ponds, tubewells, pipelines) and of the road network. A further strategy declared as reducing the vulnerability of pastoralists is the allotment of irrigable land at the fringes of the desert.

Recently, a study analysed possible impacts on migration patterns, stocking densities, conditions of range vegetation, social relationships and households' resource allocation. They concluded that average 55% pastoralists involved in the water innovations delay the point in time of transhumant retreat from localities on the rangelands if water stock is longer accessible. This is a common behavior of the pastoralists, thus the socio-economic impact can probably be generalized on the entire Cholistan area.

For considerations of the ecological sustainability of the water supply techniques or of the interrelationships of water facility development and land degradation, subsequent studies should essentially differentiate between the temporally useable rainwater harvesting techniques and the perennial water supply by pumping up groundwater, because both water sources are probably characterized by varying long-term prospects.

In order to clear economic and social potentials and constraints such a study should also comprise the spatial distribution and the tenure to and the maintenance of the facilities. Impacts on the natural vegetation should be measured by ecological methods, as e.g. remote sensing with vegetation sampling or infra-red soil diagnostic.

Diversifying pastoral farming systems is opportune only for the households with comparatively larger wealth. They shift to systems of crop-farming with limited transhumance. A 66% of the pastoralists which modified their pastoral farming systems showed preference for cattle keeping what represents their objectives to open more market potentials. Smallholders have a conflict of objectives and must choose between both production opportunities. If they decide to abandon mobile pastoral production they shift to settled crop-farming in the irrigated areas. They have to deal with the continuing shortages of water supply to canals by the Sutlej River there and with their already marginalized economic and social status. The expansion of irrigated land leads to shrinking of rangelands what affects also the households with relatively satisfactory livestock system (medium wealth group). They cannot afford to diversify to agro-pastoralism and must deal with the risk of investing in livestock during the process of declining range resources.

Also due to the expansion of these schemes to the rangelands the mobile pastoralists come into social conflicts with cultivators about migration routes to the drought season areas away from the rangelands.

These impacts revealed that parts of the pastoral population are disadvantaged or even marginalised by the allotment of land, because they cannot participate on the benefits of a shift to the agro-pastoral system. The farming systems which cannot acquire sufficient amount of land will try to satisfy their needs by increasing the herds size what puts further burden on the carrying capacity of the rangelands.

With this quantitative change and with the structural change of species preferences of agro-pastoralists it can be concluded that the agricultural colonisation drives on the cycle of desertification. This ecological impact is generalizable to all parts of Cholistan which are used by pastoralists disadvantaged as mentioned before. The largest parts of the northern and north-western fringes of Cholistan are already involved in land colonisation. These are the spaces which are essentially needed by the pastoralists to pass through to the river banks or to stay and survive the pre-monsoon period. With that must be concluded that the realised impacts of land allotment and colonization oppose the aimed reduction of grazing pressure on the rangelands and come up to a socio-economic uplift only for those residents of Cholistan with already larger wealth.

The article strives to attain a locally valid, scientific contribution to a wider research effort into the environmental impact assessment of the concerned development schemes, and how an effective dynamic approach of livelihood improvement could be drawn up. Perhaps this could stimulate funding donors, government policy-makers, research institutions, military and NGOs for continuative research and development activities.