Turning vast stretches of land into arid deserts impacting wildlife, vegetation and leading to water crisis… the apocalypse shown in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi flick Interstellar.
- Desertification can spell unprecedented food scarcity and cause a spike in dust storms.
- Groundwater depletion a major cause of worry.
- Infrastructural development around the world is happening at the cost of green spaces.
- Usage of fertilizers, pesticides, and over-cultivation is resulting in reduced soil fertility.
Talk about human frailties, and the discourse will last for eternity. One of our follies which beg our attention is looking at life through a myopic lens, being content with stop-gap solutions and the tendency to harm our ecosystem for the lust for more. Desertification is a problem which if not addressed, can spell unprecedented worldwide food scarcity. What we don’t realize is even though our mother Earth has a bountiful of resources to proffer, it also has a fury, which when galvanized into action can wreak havoc on our lives in ways we can’t wriggle out of.
Sahara desert as we know it today was once Green
Today known as the hottest desert in the world, the Sahara was once a green land – with water and vegetation in abundance – until we humans denuded it of all the greenery. Reportedly, archaeologists and paleoecologists have attributed overgrazing by animals as one of the reasons behind Sahara turning into a desert. In the year 2019, the world woke up to devastating pictures of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil engulfed in flames, destroying about 17.5 million acres. What’s pertinent to note is the Amazon forest can’t catch fire due to natural factors. It was a clear case of anthropogenic emissions. Farmers and ranchers in their quest for more land for agricultural activity resorted to felling trees, triggering fires in the rainforest.
Watch: Why are vast stretches of land turning to deserts?
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Development at the cost of green spaces – It’s unfortunate! Human endeavour to change the course of rivers by building huge dams has also led to many species losing their natural habitat, propelling their extinction. It is when humans intervene with the ecosystem that transpiration levels of water undergo a change in the areas, bringing about an erratic change in the rainfall pattern. We are also to be blamed for sapping the essential nutrients of the soil by excessive use of chemicals and pesticides and over-cultivation to get high output. Increased use of groundwater for cultivating crops also contributes to the deteriorating quality of soil.
Tube wells and pumps are used to extract water from the depths of land, pushing the water table down. This in turn affects the natural vegetation, the natural habitat and the soil composition of the area. Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides without organic manure has severely impacted the quality of soils, especially as a consequence of the green revolution. Exploitative farming being the least sustainable is fast contributing to desertification by making our soils sick. Several lands which had inhabitants have been rendered arid and uninhabitable due to man-made activities. It’s unfortunate that development has always come at the cost of loss of green spaces.
Groundwater depletion has made matters worse
The rapidly changing contours of human civilization is also depriving wildlife of their habitats, forcing them to seek refuge on natural landscapes. Such activities have altered the ecosystem of areas completely. Changes in bio-diversity make the ecosystem unsustainable. It started with Sahara and is happening more so today. Come to think of it, the state of Thar desert is not very different. The border districts of Punjab along Rajasthan are slowly, but surely losing their colour. Careful study of rainfall in Sangrur and Patiala shows that the percentage of rainfall has steadily declined. The area has faced severe drought-like conditions for years now. To top it, the relentless extraction of water for paddy continues. As a result, in many places, the water table has gone down to below 35 meters. Thousands of tube wells are deployed to extract groundwater from the depths of mother Earth. Deforestation has made matters worse and the vegetation pattern in the entire area is slowly changing.
Are we digging our own graves? Overgrazing, extensive agricultural activity, deforestation, application of unnatural chemicals, rapid urbanization along with air and land pollution has changed the ecosystem of the area surrounding border districts of Punjab. Is this area inching towards desertification? Are we humans to blame for green land turning into arid zones, where the soil’s colour is a mix of brown and yellow grain?
The answer seems to be ‘Yes’.
If we don’t stop exploiting our lands, then soon large chunks of land will turn into deserts. This is further going to compound our problem of limited resources and unlimited demand. We have extracted fossil fuels from our lands and used them to pollute our air and water. By destroying forests and changing rain patterns, humans are showing how excessive greed can actually destroy our entire race and threaten our very existence. It seems we are the proverbial boiling frogs, and interestingly we are the ones to blame for digging our own graves and that of our future generations.
We have answers, but do we have the will?
‘What is to be done?‘… said the title of a novel written in the 19th century that laid the essential groundwork for future revolutions. That was a time when the human will to do something was at its best, even so the human intellect was busy finding solutions. Today, after 200 years this question haunts us again. Only this time, the answers are simple and require no intellectual brooding. Thanks to the advances made in almost every field during the last few decades, we are equipped with solutions to counter desertification of green lands.
Unlike the 19th century, the multitude of information processed and data analyzed by humans in the first 20 years of the 21st century leaves no room for any doubt as far as our choices are concerned. Despite the availability of answers, we have given up even before the fight could begin.
For starters, massive afforestation drives should be launched in both new and old lands. Cultivation of crops that are not water-intensive needs to be carried out, and pumping out of underground water should be avoided. Measures to augment natural rain need to be institutionalized. Besides, watershed management programs in areas where rainfall has been scarce need to be taken up. Building of big dams needs to be avoided and numerous small hydroelectric plants need to emerge. To prevent desertification of land, we must not destroy our natural ecosystems. We know the way forward… the question is will we tread on that path?