India and the world are getting arid. The threat of Desertification is for real

As per the United Nations, every year about 1.20 crore hectare land is fast turning arid. About 23% of the total arable land is already degraded. Similarly, India’s 30% of land is degraded

Daya SagarDaya Sagar   16 Sep 2019 9:59 AM GMT

India and the world are getting arid. The threat of Desertification is for real

Laporia village in Rajasthan, situated 80 km west from the state capital Jaipur, struggled with the problem of desertification 30 years ago. The soil had completely lost its fertility due to which the villagers were forced to relocate with their cattle for up to six months at a time. All the village wells and ponds had dried out. It was only by the sheer will power and perseverance that the ponds and wells of the area could be restored thereby putting an end to the exodus.

The threat of desertification looms large over the world. As per the United Nations, every year about 1.20 crore hectare land is fast turning arid. About 23% of the total arable land is already degraded. Similarly, India's 30% land (about 96.40 million hectares) is degraded.

Desertification is a process whereby arable and productive land loses its productivity. Desertification depletes the soil of its moisture. Such areas have their water resources dried up and soil arid. Such soil becomes unfit for cultivation and agriculture. It is difficult then for the flora- fauna to thrive in such a place.

As per Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)'s Desertification Atlas, Jharkhand is the worst affected by desertification where about 69% land is degraded. It is followed by Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa. A report of the Ministry of Environment shows the loss of 48.8 billion dollars to the country due to soil erosion and desertification.

Renowned environmentalist and Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi, Sunita Narayan had in a workshop on desertification organized for the journalists in New Delhi told that desert and desertification must not be confused with each other as they have different connotations. Whereas desert is a complete natural system (ecosystem), desertification is pretty much like a natural disaster, which happens due to the excessive exploitation of land and water resources.

The United Nations report tells that out of every 4-hectare land, three is losing its natural composition affecting 3.2 billion people worldwide. The UN projects that if the current situation prevails, 70 crore people will have to be rehabilitated while 1.30 billion will have to face drought.

The Indian Meteorological Department's deputy director general Dr SD Atri said that climatic change and desertification are interlinked. As per him, desertification is a facet of climatic change. He said: "The Earth's temperature is on the rise due to environmental changes which are further reducing the soil moisture and making the earth dry. Loose soil is then easily eroded by wind and water making the land arid."

Dr SD Atri believes that desertification affects the balance of the entire ecological system and promotes global warming. Africa and Asia, the most populous continents are also worse affected by desertification. As per the UN's report, about 40% of the population of Asia and Africa dwell in areas where desertification is rampant. Most of these people are dependent upon agriculture and animal husbandry.

Sunita Narayan rues that despite being equally grave a threat, desertification did not get as much attention as climate change and global warming. She informed that the issue was taken up as early as 1992's Rio Earth Summit when the developing nations of Asia and Africa had voiced their concern over it. However, for the developed nations, climate change, bio-diversity and wild-life protection were of more concern. So, Sunita Narayan calls desertification the stepchild of the Rio Summit.

As per Sunita Narayan, efficient management of water and land can effectively offset the threat of desertification though she believes it to be a partial measure in the direction. She believes that people from the world over should come together and work up an effective strategy to fight desertification.

Seeing the growing threat of desertification, 3,000 representatives of 196 countries would be gathering in India. Prime Minister Modi has declared his unflinching support for the fight against desertification in the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and told that India pledges its resources in the form of its cost-effective satellite and space technology to device combative strategy against desertification.

By the end of the meet, it is hoped that the world community shall be able to prepare a better roadmap to fight against desertification.

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