TODAY -

World Day to Combat Desertification 2024

N Munal Meitei *



The 17th June is World Day to Combat Desertification. This year’s theme “United for Land. Our Legacy. Our Future” spotlights the future of land stewardship-our most precious resource to ensure the stability and prosperity of billions of people around the globe and is to be hosted by Germany.

The recent cyclone Remal has badly affected the entire Eastern India including Manipur. During this ongoing mayhem, people of the State do not seem to take much interest on climate issues. But, even in the hardest situations, we should never ignore our environment.

Protecting and restoring degraded land is essential to end poverty and hunger, achieving food security and improving the livelihoods of millions of people. We must prioritize women and youth who are vital stakeholders in land health and suffer most from land degradation, in order to ensure that science-based and people-centered land restoration becomes our legacy to future generations.

We can’t tackle land degradation without unlocking the economic potential of the people and building back the lost ecosystems.

Healthy and resilient land is the first point to defend against desertification, droughts and famine to feed 8.23 billion people. Healthy soil also deals with the climate and biodiversity crisis. The whole world is again looking for a positive response from COP-16 to be held at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in December 2024.

The theme for World Environment Day 2024 also reminds us to restore degraded lands, stop desertification and strengthen resilience against drought. Healthy land not only provides us with almost 95% of our food but also provide us clothes and shelters. Yet, every second, an equivalent of 4 football fields of healthy land becomes degraded, adding up to a total of 100 million hectares each year.

Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts but degradation of land by human activities and climatic variations. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing, intensive cultivation, forests fires, poor irrigation and construction work are the root causes for desertification.

Dry-lands make up around 40% of Earth’s surface which are home to approximately 2 billion people. Desertification affects 10-20% of dry-lands and 75 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost every year. Similarly, 12 million ha. of land are lost annually due to desertification and drought.

According to UN, the number and duration of drought periods have increased by 29% since 2000 and if no urgent measures are taken up, droughts could affect more than three-quarters of world’s population by 2050. Currently 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed conditions and 160 million children are exposed to severe droughts.

Growing world population, coupled with unsustainable production and consumption, putting excessive pressure bring land degradation. Nearly three quarters of the Earth’s surface has been altered by humans to meet the ever-increasing demands.

Desertification and drought force migration, putting millions of people at risk of displacement. Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems is now urgent for human survival and the planet.

The causes of desertification also include social, political and economic factors including deforestation as prime causes. When a degraded ecosystem is no longer capable to recover from a stress period, a downward spiral of desertification may take place.

When the land degrades and stops being productive, natural spaces deteriorate and transform. Thus, greenhouse gas emissions increase and biodiversity of the area decreases. No matter where you live, the consequences of desertification and drought always dog us.

A big quantum of deforestation in Manipur is due to rampant jhum farming, illicit felling for firewood and poppy plantation. Actually, we all depend on the land; 99.9 % of human calories still come from land.

However, one third of these lands are currently degraded. This degradation affects 3.2 billion people worldwide, particularly impacting rural communities and smallholder farmers who depend on land for their livelihoods, leading to increase hunger, poverty, unemployment and forced migration.

Desertification also lead soil to release 300 million tons of carbon which is estimated to be about 4% of global emissions from all sources combined. Thus, environmental management approaches for combating desertification , conserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change are linked in many ways.

Investing in nature-based solutions, specifically land restoration, will allow us to build forward better greener, healthier, stronger and more sustainable planet. Now, drought is a recurring feature of climate in most parts of the world.

Frequent wild fires in Manipur contribute to dry-lands and to desertification. Vegetation and its diversity are instrumental in soil conservation and regulation of surface water and local climate.

The disruption of the interlinked services that are provided by plant biodiversity is the key to trigger for desertification including the loss of habitats for many species . A study estimates Manipur’s mean soil erosion at 14 ton per ha per year, subsequently causing an annual loss of 5871.32 ton per year.

The state is sorted into six risk zones which comprises 66% of geographical area as slight to moderate erosion, 18% from high to very high erosion and 16% encounter severe erosion.

Desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges today. Sustainable land management is everyone’s business. A decade of land degradation may create irreversible damage, but a decade of land restoration may bring multiple benefits.

Restoration aims to re- establish a previous ecosystem and all its functions and services , while rehabilitation seeks to repair specific parts of the systems, in order to regain ecosystem productivity. Therefore with coming of this day, let’s stop cutting of trees but save our forests by planting more and more trees wherever the space we have during this monsoon to fight back from desertification.


* N Munal Meitei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an environmentalist and can be reached at nmunall(AT)yahoo(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on June 17 2024.



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