Mains Daily Question
Feb. 22, 2024

Q2. List down the causes and current status of desertification in India. Also examine the role played by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in addressing the concerns. (10M, 150W)

Model Answer

Approach to the answer:   

Understanding and structuring the answer:   

The question has three main headings: 1) Causes of desertification 2) Current status of desertification in India and 3)Role played by UNCCD in addressing the concerns posed by desertification.


Type 1: Define desertification. 

Type 2: Give some data about the extent of desertification in India and the world.


Heading 1: Causes of desertification 

Heading 2: Current status of desertification in India.   

Heading 3: Evaluation of role played by UNCCD in addressing the concerns posed by desertification..      


Type 1: Relate it to SDG 15- states our resolve to halt and reverse land degradation. 

Type 2: Mention the steps taken by India in addressing desertification.


Answer: Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused by a multitude of factors, including climate change, human-caused soil overexploitation, and deforestation. 

Causes of desertification: 

According to the United Nations, every year, the world loses 24 billion tons of fertile soil and dryland degradation reduces national domestic product in developing countries by up to 8 % annually. 

Natural Causes:

  • Climate Variability: Changes in long-term climate patterns, such as prolonged droughts and shifts in precipitation, can lead to reduced soil moisture and increased evaporation.
  • Geomorphology: Geological processes, like the natural expansion of sand dunes or erosion, can gradually transform landscapes into arid and desert-like conditions.
  • Soil Characteristics: Certain soil types are naturally more prone to aridification due to low water-holding capacity, reduced fertility, and susceptibility to erosion.
  • Topography: Steep slopes and rugged terrains can enhance water runoff and erosion, leading to land degradation and desertification.

Anthropogenic Causes:

  • Deforestation: Clearing forests for agriculture, logging, and urbanization reduces vegetation cover, leading to increased soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, and decreased water retention.
  • Overgrazing: Unsustainable grazing practices by livestock lead to vegetation removal, soil compaction, and erosion, accelerating land degradation.
  • Unsustainable Agriculture: Improper farming practices, such as excessive tilling, monoculture, and inappropriate irrigation, can degrade soil quality, leading to reduced productivity and desertification.
  • Urbanization and Infrastructure Development: Construction, urban expansion, and infrastructure projects often lead to soil compaction, reduced vegetation cover, and increased vulnerability to erosion.
  • Mining and Extractive Industries: Extractive activities can disrupt landscapes, degrade soil quality, and release pollutants into the environment, contributing to desertification.

Current status of desertification in India:

  • According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas 2021,  around 83.69 mha of the country underwent desertification in 2018-19. This was greater than the 81.48 mha in 2003-2005 and 82.64 mha in 2011-13.
  • If we consider the data with respect to different states, around 23.79% of the area undergoing desertification / land degradation in the country was contributed by Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Ladakh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
  • India witnessed an increase in the level of desertification in 28  states and Union territories between 2011-13 and 2018-19.

In 2019, the government raised its target of restoration of degraded land from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030 following a commitment made during the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. 

Role played by UNCCD in addressing desertification:

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) helps in addressing desertification through the following: 

  • Convention Framework: UNCCD provides a framework for countries to develop and implement national action plans to combat desertification and mitigate the impacts of drought and land degradation.
  • Capacity Building: UNCCD offers training, capacity-building programs, and technical assistance to member countries to enhance their understanding of sustainable land management practices.
    • For example, in Kenya, UNCCD has supported the development of land management training centers. 
  • Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN): UNCCD launched the LDN concept, aiming to achieve a balance between land degradation and land restoration. Countries strive to maintain or improve the productivity of land resources, avoiding further degradation.
  • Drought Management: UNCCD assists countries in developing strategies for managing drought, including early warning systems, preparedness, and response plans to minimize the impacts on vulnerable populations.
    • For instance, Jordan has implemented drought contingency plans to manage water resources during drought periods
  • Ecosystem Restoration: UNCCD promotes restoration initiatives that improve the health and productivity of degraded land through reforestation, afforestation, agroforestry, and other sustainable practices.
    • Great Green Wall Initiative supported by UNCCD aims to restore 100 million hectares of land across the Sahel region 
  • Sustainable Land Management: UNCCD supports projects that promote sustainable land management practices. 

Despite the limitations, the UNCCD operates in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 15 (Life on Land), and contributes to global efforts to achieve a more sustainable and resilient planet. 

Subjects : Environment
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