Published On : Thu, Dec 21st, 2017

The Silent Massacre of Our Lands: Desertification

Udaya Chandar

Nagpur: The nature is waging a war against India, a silent and a deadly one. The aggressor is winning hands down and we are looking at it in disbelief. Our country is not the only one to be inflicted with this lethal campaign; there are many more countries with worse consequences. The offender is desertification and land degradation. The aim of this short write up is to see how we are handling this dreaded menace vis-à-vis others.

Desertification is most telling in Africa. In the last one century, as per available statistics, the Sahara desert expanded 250 km southwards. The situation is not hopeless in a continent where deserts expand ruthlessly. These countries have a number of strategies open to them by which they can increase the agricultural production by which they can solve their immediate and urgent quandary. In spite of all their complex dilemmas, they are leading in their fight on this horror.

Another desert, which calls for attention, is Gobi desert in Mongolia and China. Some researchers say that presently this is the fastest moving desert on our planet and it gulps an area of about 2000 square kilometers every year. This is causing serious concern to Beijing. We have to see how the Chinese push it away, who are known for ‘delivering’, before it reaches Beijing. They say that their efforts to relocate the people, plant anti-desertification trees and control the grazing are yielding some results. The desert is expanding into some of the sensitive parts of the country.

In India, the land undergoing desertification and degradation is 25% and 32% respectively. These figures are corroborated by many sources including the United Nations. However, China is equally or more impacted by the malady. There are a number of crucial differences between the two countries. First, is the area the two countries have. China has three times more of land than India. By now, the population of both countries is at 130 crores. The density of population of China is 144 per square kilometer while that of India is 382 as per the figures available presently.

If China loses some of its land to desertification it does not matter so much. Whereas it matters a lot to India. Leaving some smaller countries the population density of India is very high. The total population of the country is also the highest in the world. We are about to burst with our unwanted millions. This means we cannot afford to lose any land.

There is a vast difference between working style of China and that of India. China has one iron hand that makes sure that all in letter and spirit implement the policies enunciated in the national interest. In India we have ten different hands that pull a proposal in ten different directions without reaching anywhere. The political ‘opposition party’ is a destructive one whose only aim is to say ‘no’ to any matter that is put forward by the government.

We know how lethargically the government works and how corrupt they are. Our sense of urgency is ridiculous.

By now, the Indian government has become fully aware of the various nuances of desertification. There is no need of any lesson on the definition, causes, effects, preventive steps and methods to reverse desertification. A long drawn out and sustained effort is needed to tackle the problem. It may need a lifetime to achieve desirable results; undoubtedly, it is worth it. India has made a few attempts in fighting the menace but they are far too insufficient. There are some petty success stories also but they have to travel hundreds of miles to leave a footprint.

The Indian Environ Minister is categorical that fighting desertification and land degradation is a definite thrust area for his ministry and the government. He says that an action plan for the entire nation is being finalized (don’t know how much time it will take to do it) and we have to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. This means that healthy and productive land resources will increase and not go down after 2030. As of now, we do not have any project worth the name, which confronts this immediate danger.

Prime Minister Modi has recently promised ‘har khet ko pani’ (water to every farm). Many wondered whether the PM knows the ground realities with respect to availability of water in the country. That is our understanding of our environment at the highest level. Anyway, it is a tall order.

Let us see what is possible on the desertification front by viewing what is happening internationally.

In 2002 a green tree barrier project was put through in Africa across the whole continent. It was a project started by eleven countries south of Sahara to fight desertification and drought. Since then the project has been receiving support and funding from various others. In 2007 the African Union has ratified and launched the project, “The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI).” In this project anti-desertification trees are planted in a belt stretching from Senegal to the Republic of Djibouli covering nine countries in between and thousands of kilometers. The project has taken many environmental issues in its stride and mainly food security.

The outcomes of the project are fantastic and beyond the imagination of all. In Nigeria 5 million hectares have been restored and in Ethiopia 15 million hectares. Senegal has planted more than 12 million trees in over 40,000 hectares and the tree count in Burkina Faso increased by more than 3 million.

Algeria has implemented its own “Green Dam” in 1970s and reaped huge benefits. China too is building a ‘great green wall’ to defeat desertification in Gobi and Taklamakan deserts. The Chinese plan is to plant 100 billion trees in a desert area of 4500 square kilometers. The project took off in 1978 and by now 66 billion trees have been planted using primarily aerial seeding. The Chinese are claiming that they are seeing positive results out of their programme.

The Chinese have also succeeded remarkably in reclaiming 6000 square kilometers of their Kubuqi desert in less than 30 years. Sprawling townships have come up where there used to be nothing but sand and dust.

The way the subject is being handled by the Indian government, there is a definite need to push it with much more force than is being done now. So far, the effort is in a lackadaisical fashion. We have to pull up our socks if we do not want to remain a hungry nation.

(The writer is a passionate student of Sociology with a PhD in the subject. Author of many books.)