Anthropogenic activity of greedily devouring the earth’s resources led to, in return, destruction of the protective green cover and pollution of air, water and soil. There is lack of firm desire to protect the earth from devastating impacts. One of global impacts is global warming which has disturbed the ecological balance and put the existence of earth on anvil. Another equally important impact is desertification being the demon affecting environment and social life in most of the countries in the world.
Desertification is defined as a type of land degradation in which relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid and infertile, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife
As is observed elsewhere, the desertification in India is affected by multiplicity of factors. Some of these factors are overgrazing, over-exploitation, deforestation, inappropriate irrigation, population pressure, urbanization, poverty, inequitable sharing of resources and so on. There is lack of dedicated efforts among the government and public to implement the measures to combat desertification.
The report published in India Today on June 2018 is shocking that around 105.19 million ha of the India’s total geographical area of 328.73 ha is being degraded while 82.18 million ha is undergoing desertification. Removal of green cover, inappropriate irrigation, excess use of inorganic fertilizers, absence of soil conservation measures lead to degradation of land, the continued degradation of land finally set the process the desertification. This is the vicious cycle of desertification.
Loss of soil cover due to water erosion i.e. rainfall and surface runoff or wind erosion are some of the severe impacts for desertification. Around 10.98% of desertification in India has been due to loss of soil cover, which is precious non-renewable resource. Water erosion occurs both in hot and cold desert areas. Wind erosion is responsible for the spread of sand by various processes, even upto lofty altitudes of Himalayas. Soil is removed by this process
Increasing desertification is serious threat in India, leading to destruction of agriculture and large number of suicide deaths of farmers in India. It is the fundamental threat to the Indian agriculture. According to the State of India’s Environment 2017, the threat is experienced more in eight states namely Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh, where around 40 to 70 per cent of land has undergone desertification. Apart from this, about 26 of total 29 Indian states have an increase in the area undergoing desertification in the past 10 years.
The major environmental impacts of desertification are reduction in agricultural soil, reduction in green cover of the nation, reduction in biodiversity, and change in local biodiversity. Social impacts include forced migration of many people. Young people leave the area to work in cities and towns, thus putting pressure on local urban resources. Shortage of fodder and food led to malnutrition and famine as in Ethiopia. The people start moving to refugee camps. There is increased poverty due to reduction in agricultural productivity and livelihood,
Preventive and corrective management measures are required to be adopted to combat desertification. Some of the measures are given below.
- Improve small-scale irrigation projects,
- Restore natural vegetation cover,
- Plantation of drought tolerant shrubs and grasses to help bind the soil and prevent further soil erosion,
- Tree plantation should be carried out,
- Grazing should be planned and controlled,
- Build more dams to store run off water,
- Crop rotation by the farmers to improve the soil quality.
Desertification and land degradation are affecting the agricultural production in India. Getting cognizance of this, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MOEF&CC), Government of India, New Delhi, Space Applications Centre (SAC), and ISRO, Ahmedabad along with 19 concerned partner institutes carried out inventory and monitoring of desertification of the entire country using Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) data in Geographical Information Stem (GIS). Environment Atlas of maps of the states in India indicating the land degradation / desertification areas was released jointly by MoEF&CC and Arid Zone Forest Research Institute (AFRI) on the occasion of World Day to Combat Desertification on June 17, 2016.
There is hope that with the efforts of government and the public movement for controlling the desertification, the majority of degraded land would be restored to productive land that would have positive impact on the environment and social life.
Dr. Pramod R. Chaudhari
Ex-Deputy Director, CSIR-NEERI, Nagpur, Maharashtra, India