In spite of assurances from the Prime Minister, India’s issue with land degradation seems to only continue to worsen.
According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), land degradation affects approximately 29.7 percent of the country’s total geographical area. During the 2018-19 period, an estimated 97.85 million hectares of India’s land underwent degradation per the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, published by the Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre which falls under the ambit of ISRO.
The 29.7 percent figure is versus 29.32 percent in the 2011-13 period and 28.76 percent in the 2005-06 percent. This is despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating in June that the country is on course to meet its targets of land degradation neutrality. The data indicates that the states and union territories of Gujarat, Jharkhand, Ladakh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana account for 23.79 percent of the total land degradation of India’s total geographical area.
India has long weathered issues linked to land degradation, such as desertification and deforestation. In 2019, the Atlas estimated that desertification – “a change in soil properties, vegetation or climate, which results in a persistent loss of ecosystem services that are fundamental to sustaining life” as a ScienceDirect article from 2013 explains – approximately thirty percent of the country’s area is undergoing degradation equating to some 96.40 million hectares.
In the case of deforestation, India is behind on its targets. As previously reported by Health Issues India, “India has pledged to maintain forest cover of 33 percent but…the figure continues to hover in the 22 percent range as of the 2017 State of Forest report. As to the causes of deforestation, economic development looms large.” Industry-led projects appear to lead the drive.
Per a report published by The Logical Indian, “the central government is working on a plan to rejuvenate 26 million acres of barren land by 2030, which will help prevent about three billion tones [sic] of carbon emissions in the environment.” Yet it is clear that the problem of land degradation is not dissipating any time soon.
Preserving biodiversity carries with it a raft of public health benefits, such as preventing the emergence of new zoonotic diseases. Even the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins and the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus can be linked back to land degradation and the loss of wildlife, an area where the world is backsliding.