Desertification of the Thar region


    In News 

    • Recently, the Central University of Rajasthan conducted a study on desertification of the Thar region.

    Thar Desert

    • The Thar Desert, also called the Great Indian Desert, arid region of rolling sandhills on the Indian subcontinent. It is located partly in Rajasthan state, northwestern India, and partly in Punjab and Sindh (Sind) provinces, eastern Pakistan.
    • It is the world’s ninth-largest hot subtropical desert.

    About study

    • The study was undertaken as part of an assessment of the environmentally sensitive areas within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). 
      • The scientists associated with the project studied the climate and vegetation in Thar to understand the desertification process.

    Key Findings 

    • Focused Areas: It focused on Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur districts covering more than 50% of the Thar desert.
      • It found that Jodhpur had witnessed a slow speed of desertification. 
      • It also found that the vegetation cover and water bodies had increased in the area in the last 46 years and the complex sand region had decreased by 4.98%.
    • Expansion of Thar desert:  Along with the gradual destruction of the Aravalli ranges, the Thar desert is expanding fast because of the migration of people, changes in the rainfall pattern, spread of sand dunes and unscientific plantation drives. 
    • Impacts: The degradation of land is posing a threat to the desert ecology, while climate change has contributed to the spread of arid regions.
      •  The loss of Aravali hills because of unchecked mining activities would result in the sandstorms travelling to NCR and Delhi. 
      • The suspended particles from the arid region are contributing to air pollution in NCR. 
    • Suggestions: new plans should be evolved for the conservation of the Aravali ranges to stop the desertification towards eastern parts of the State. 

    What is Land degradation?

    • Land degradation is temporary or permanent degeneration of productivity of land due to physical, chemical or biological factors. 
      • Land degradation is caused by multiple forces, including extreme weather conditions, particularly drought.
      •  It is also caused by human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility. 
    • Present status of India’s Land Degradation: 
      • Some 97.85 million hectares (MHA) of India’s total geographical area (TGA) of 328.72 MHA underwent land degradation during 2018-19.
        • Land degradation within dryland regions (arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions) is termed ‘desertification’.
      • State Wise breakup:
        • Around 23.79 per cent of the area undergoing desertification/land degradation with respect to TGA of the country was contributed by Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Ladakh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
        • However, land degradation and desertification were declining in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana in 2018-2019.

    Reasons for Land Degradation

    • Loss of Fertility by Mismanagement: Due to the use of various scientific inputs like irrigation, fertilisers, pesticides etc. Unscientific cropping practices are also causing harm. 
      • This results in problems like soil erosion, loss of natural nutrients, water-logging and salinity and contamination of ground and surface water.
    • Soil Erosion: This is the process by which the topsoil is detached from land and either washed away by water, ice or sea waves or blown away by the wind.
    • Salinity/Alkalinity: This problem occurs in areas of temporary water surplus and high temperatures due to over-irrigation or high rainfall. 
      • The salt layer plays havoc with the fertility of topsoil and renders vast stretches of useful land infertile.
        •  This problem is particularly serious in areas with assured irrigation in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, western Maharashtra, Bihar and northern Rajasthan (the Indira Gandhi Canal command area). Such lands are known by local names, such as reh, kallar, usar, chopan etc. 
    • Waterlogging: This happens when the water table gets saturated for various reasons—over-irrigation, seepage from canals, inadequate drainage etc. The land under waterlogged conditions can be used neither for agriculture nor for human settlements. This menace can be tackled by adopting scientific norms for the amount of irrigation, checking seepage from canals by proper lining and providing adequate drainage through field channels.
    • Floods and Droughts: Both these hazards have the harmful effect of limiting the use of good soil. 
    • Desertification: It is also the end result of Land Degradation but it could also be the reason. The advancement of sand from the desert to the adjoining regions is called desertification. 
      • The sand covers fertile soil and affects its fertility. This problem is particularly serious in areas adjoining the Thar desert in Rajasthan. 



    • Land degradation and desertification can affect human health through complex pathways. 
      • As land is degraded and deserts expand in some places, food production is reduced, water sources dry up and populations are pressured to move to more hospitable areas.
      • It negatively affects food production, livelihoods, and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services.
      • The potential impacts of desertification on health include:
        • higher threats of malnutrition from reduced food and water supplies;
        • more water- and food-borne diseases that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water;
        • respiratory diseases caused by atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants;
        • the spread of infectious diseases as populations migrate.

    Efforts in this direction 

    At Global level: 

    • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) 
      • Established in 1994, came into force in 1996.
      • It is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management
      • It addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
      • The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast expanses of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people, and reduce the impacts of drought on vulnerable populations to build. 
    • Bonn Challenge
    • It is a global goal to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. 
    • Launched by the Government of Germany and IUCN in 2011, the Challenge surpassed the 150-million-hectare milestone for pledges in 2017.
    • Their work is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) goal, and the Paris Climate Change Agreement – all together providing a roadmap for a sustainable planet. 

    India Scenario 

    • National level land degradation mapping: It is taken up by ISRO along with partner institutions, under the Natural Resources Census (NRC) mission of DOS/ISRO, towards generating information on land degradation at 1:50,000 scale, using 23m resolution (multi-temporal & multi-spectral) IRS data. 
      • The task involves the adaptation of uniform classification standards along with a common geospatial database framework for generating reliable land degradation information.
    • Signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD)
      • India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD). 
    • The country is committed to combating desertification and land degradation and intends to achieve land degradation neutral status by 2030. 
    • MoEF&CC is the nodal Ministry for the implementation of the UNCCD. 
    • At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 in Paris, India joined the voluntary Bonn Challenge and pledged to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030. 
    • The government sees schemes are formulated as tools to tackle the problem of land degradation namely
      • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana
      • Soil Health Card Scheme 
      • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Synchayee Yojana etc

    What more needs to be done to Check Land Degradation?

    • Improved agricultural practices: Better practices need to be adopted in different regions. Tillage on higher slopes should be avoided, while contour ploughing on the slopes prone to erosion may help in maintaining the soil depth.
    • Shelterbelts: Planting shelterbelts and stubble mulching help in conserving the soils in desert regions. 
    • Avoid overgrazing: The pressure of livestock on pastures in hilly, desert and plateau regions has to be reduced in order to avoid overgrazing, such as in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
    • Prevent Ravines: The ravines and gullies should be plugged to prevent head-ward erosion. 
    • Land Degradation Neutrality: A state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.
    • Regular updates and information on degraded land is essential for the Government to plan necessary measures to tackle degradation processes and to plan for reclamation programmes.

    Source: TH