ISRO study says a fourth of India is turning into desert

28 Nov 2009, dilip Comments: | Views: 6527 | | Category: Environment, India

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Dry Land, Clear Sky .. Empty Gazes?

 No less than a fourth of India’s geographical area, or 81 million hectares, is undergoing a process of desertification with unchecked deforestation and overgrazing , reveals a first-of-its-kind ‘desertification status map’ of the country created by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in collaboration with several scientific institutions across the country. The Space Applications Centre (SAC) study is published in the Current Science journal

 It says that northern and western parts of India are the worst affected by the phenomenon.The spatial inventory, which uses satellite imagery from an Indian Remote Sensing Satellite, Resourcesat, also reveals that a third of the country’s area (or 105.48 million hectares) is degraded.

The research paper adds that about 15.8 per cent of the country’s geographical area is arid, 37.6 per cent semi-arid and 16.5 per cent falls in the dry sub-humid region. Put together, about 228 million hectares, or 69 per cent of the country constitute ‘dry land.’    

At least eight processes were at work, of which water erosion is the most pronounced (affecting 10.21 per cent of the total geographical area), followed by reducing vegetation cover (9.63 per cent) and wind erosion (5.34 per cent). Together 32.07 per cent of the total geographic area is being transformed by land degradation. State-wise, Rajasthan has the largest area (21.77 per cent of the total geographical area) undergoing land degradation, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (12.79 per cent), Maharashtra (12.66 per cent) and Gujarat (12.72 per cent).

The spatial inventory, at national and regional levels, will be integrated to generate a desertification status map of the world as envisaged by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

India is endowed with a wide variety of climate, ecological regions, land and water resources. However, with barely 2.4% of the total land area of the world, our country has to be support 16.7% of the total human population and about 18% of the total livestock population of the world. This has put enormous pressure on our natural resources.Natural ecosystems by and large have a high resilience for stability and regeneration. However, continued interference and relentless pressures on utilisation of resources leads to an upset of this balance. If these issues are not effectively and adequately addressed in a holistic manner, they can lead to major environmental problems such as depletion of vegetative cover, increase in soil erosion, decline in water table, and loss of biodiversity all of which directly impact our very survival.

The Road Ahead

The road ahead is of-course not level. The desertification of land is a very big issue relating to our own existence. The most critical challenge of the 21st century, with the burgeoning human and cattle population, would therefore be in meeting the food-fuel-fodder and water needs of the country. The success achieved on the food front during the “Green Revolution’ would require to be sustained. In order to improve the economy and general standard of living in the coming decades, energy and industrial production will have to be increased. All these can put tremendous strain on the natural resources of the country, unless very stringent measures are taken to prevent and control degradation of our land, water, air and other natural resources. So what are the plans of Government in combating this mammoth treat.

The Government of India had initiated a number of measures for the protection and conservation of our natural resources and ecosystems right from the inception of the First Five-Year Plan. Over the last few decades, a large number of initiatives have been taken to strengthen programmes and schemes, policy outlines and institutional framework in the sectors of agriculture, rural development, environment and forests, social welfare, poverty alleviation, which have a direct impact in improving the economy and protection of our resources. India as an affected developing country became a signatory to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) provides a platform for taking up suitable measures to achieve the goals of sustainable development through the preparation and implementation of a National Action Programme (NAP) for combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought in the country.  

India has a deep rooted cultural history of love for nature and its conservation. The traditional wisdom of dryland farming, water harvesting, use of traditional, cost-effective technologies and frugal consumption of natural resources have helped in protection of our natural resources over many centuries. It is high time, we have to get back to our basics. Proper land usage policies are to be drafted. This requires not only government , but also every citizen of the country to imbibe in mind the treat to ourselves and our future generations. Strong Local communities and local leaders(in real terms) are very much required. But in the run for GDPs , industrial complexes, recessions, inflation deflations the issue is not getting enough attention.

Links and Resources

If you wish to have a look at the India's National Action Plan submitted to UNCCD - Right Click here (and select "Save Linked Content As.." or "Save Target As.." )

For National Action Plans 'against desertification' (NAPs)  of various regions/countries - Click Here

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