How sincere is the Government really about tackling land degradation?

Each year, an average of more than 20 million people are forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather, heavy rainfall, droughts, desertification, sea-level rise and cyclones

By Vrinda Lobo

In a dialogue at the UN on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised India’s initiatives to protect land from degradation and drought. He stressed that India has always given importance to this cause, and it considers the “sacred earth as our mother”.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that 1.9 billion hectares of land, over two-thirds of the world and 1.5 billion people, are already affected by land degradation.

Land degradation impacts loss of soil-fertility, destruction of species habitat and biodiversity, soil erosion, and excessive nutrient runoff into lakes. Without strict actions, it will erode the very foundations of world’s societies, economy, food security, health, safety and quality of life. At its worst, land degradation can result in the desertification or abandonment of land (or both).

Human life will be transformed in almost every part of the planet. Entire populations already face malnutrition, disease, forced migration, cultural damage and conflicts, due to land degradation. Women and children are impacted the most.

Each year, an average of more than 20 million people are forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather, heavy rainfall, droughts, desertification, sea-level rise and cyclones. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns that the number of ‘climate refugees’ will rise beyond imagination, and it will be devastating.

Implementing sustainable land management, restoration and rehabilitation practices could reduce or reverse land degradation.

At the UN ‘High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land degradation and Drought’, Prime Minister Modi stresses, India has taken a lead to highlight land degradation issues globally and is assisting fellow developing countries. “We believe that restoration of land can start a virtuous cycle of good soil health, increased land productivity, food security and improved livelihoods. In many parts of India, we have taken up some novel approaches,” he said.

India aims to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. In the last 10 years, around 3 million hectares of forest cover, one-fourth of India’s total area, has been added.

Modi says, that “it is our sacred duty to leave a healthy planet for our future generations.” Sadly, many projects by the Indian government are rather destroying India’s future.

According to government data, nearly two-third of the size of Haryana (15,000 sq km) have been lost to encroachment and industrial projects, over the last 30 years. Since 2014 an estimated 1 crore mature trees have been cut of in the name of ‘developmental works’. Artificial plantations, afforestation, will not compensate that loss, even after two decades.

In Goa and Karnataka, a minimum of 59,000 trees will be cut for the NH4A project, double tracking of the railway line and laying of a 400kV transmission line. These ill-considered infrastructure projects are destroying the Western Ghats and its variety of ecosystems not found in other parts of the world.

Land degradation, deforestation and drought are extreme important issues. Showing good will and satisfaction with what has already been achieved in India, is not enough to handle these problems. It is not the time to be proud of the achievements and set goals. Land should not be destroyed unnecessary in the name of ‘developmental works’, but preserved for India’s children.

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