India struggles to combat desertification - GulfToday

India struggles to combat desertification

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.


The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

India is hosting the largest gathering to address growing land degradation and desertification. The fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP14) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) opened on September 2 in the national capital Delhi. India is taking over the presidency of the COP for two years.

Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar said at the inaugural session “If human actions have created the problems of climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss, it is the strong intent, technology and intellect that will make a difference.”

Earlier while announcing that India would be hosting the conference, Mr Javadekar hoped that the session would mark a significant turning point in the way we manage the scarce land and water resources. He pointed out, “We need not re-invent. But we can share our good or bad experiences, our successes or failures and therefore we can leapfrog to a good start in each country. And therefore this COP is extremely important.”

The UNCCD is a legally binding international agreement signed in the year 1994 and COP is the supreme decision-making body that meets biennially since 2001. While the last COP took place during 2017 in China, this year New Delhi is hosting the 12-day event from September 2 to 13, 2019.

The COP discusses ways and means forward to address global land degradation. One in four hectares of arable land is considered unusable due to unsustainable land management, which puts nearly 3.2 billion people in the world at risk.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD said in his inaugural address, “As 99.7 per cent of the food we eat comes from land, the question is, how do we continue to feed the future population of 10 billion without further depleting our precious resources?”

A land area is declared as ‘degraded’ when it loses its life-supporting ability. Over the past seven decades, over 2.5 billion hectares of land has been degraded globally, affecting over a billion people across 100 different countries.

Over 600 million people risk the impact of climate change in India and if land degradation is not addressed, the problem could get more acute. The country is home to 18% of the world’s population with only 2.4% of its land.

Also, in India, where agriculture supports the livelihood of over 70 crore people, and where 19 crore people are undernourished, land degradation and its impact on food security are a matter of national importance. Over 30% of the land is estimated to be degraded in India. Degrading lands, coupled with the increasing number of extreme weather events, have affected millions of livelihoods as well as the biodiversity.

The major causes of degradation in India are erosion and salinization. Excessive deforestation, intensive farming, and flood irrigation are underlying causes of desertification. Experts say that the solution lies in hyper-local assessments of soil quality over time, identifying the cause of degradation and implementing scientific remedies to revive the land.

Increasing desertification of India’s soil is a fundamental threat to agriculture, according to the recently released ‘State of India’s Environment 2017: In Figures’ published by the Centre for Science and Environment and Down To Earth magazine.

According to this report, nearly 30 per cent of India is degraded or facing desertification. Of India’s total geographical area of 328.72 million hectares (MHA), 96.4 MHA is under desertification. In eight states – Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh – around 40 to 70 per cent of land has undergone desertification. More to it, 26 of 29 Indian states have reported an increase in the area undergoing desertification in the past 10 years.

For countries like India that are highly vulnerable to climate change, land degradation is a critical issue. Degraded land loses its capacity to absorb carbon-dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas (GHG) that is the biggest factor in worsening global warming.

Experts point out that over 1 million species on earth are on the verge of extinction, threatening global food security, largely due to habitat loss and land degradation. Three out of every four hectares of land have been altered from their natural states and the productivity of about one in every four hectares of land is declining. Land degradation in tandem with climate change and biodiversity loss will force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.