Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas

Sandarbha Desk
Sandarbha Desk

TOPIC: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

What is UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)?

  • Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Earth Summit.
  • UNCCD was established in 1994 and is headquartered in Bonn, Germany.
  • 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 people can be found.
  • There are 195 parties to the convention.
  • India is a signatory to it.
  • It works to improve the living conditions of people in drylands, to maintain and restore land & soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought.
  • It encourages the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation.
  • It facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, particularly around knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable land management.
  • In 2007, CoP-8 adopted the ten-year strategic plan (2008-2018) and framework to enhance the implementation of the convention.

What is desertification?

  • UNCCD defines desertification as ‘land-degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities’.
  • It is a dynamic process that is observed in dry and fragile ecosystems.
  • It affects terrestrial areas (topsoil, earth, groundwater reserves, surface run-off), animal & plant populations, as well as human settlements and their amenities (for instance, terraces and dams).
  • It is caused by complex interactions among physical, biological, political, social, cultural and economic factors.
  • It is degradation that cannot be reversed in a lifetime (around 60 years).
  • It does not refer to the advance of deserts.

Desertification & Land Degradation Atlas

  • It is an ISRO-led study and was commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.
  • The Atlas was made by studying satellite imageries of India over an eight-year period and was released in June 2016 by ISRO Space Applications Centre (SAC).
  • It presents state-wise desertification and land degradation status maps depicting land use, process of degradation and severity level.
  • It mentions that around 30 percent (or 29.32% to be precise) of the total land area of the country is undergoing degradation.
  • Only nine states constitute 24 percent of the degradation (Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
  • The degraded area has increased over 0.5 percent from 2003-05 to 2011-13 period.
  • This information is for the years 2011-13.
  • The outputs are helpful in prioritizing areas to be taken up for minimizing the impact of desertification and land degradation.
  • This finding poses a threat to India’s commitment to the UNCCD of eliminating land degradation completely by 2030.
  • The atlas would form a part of India’s action plan to completely stop the phenomenon.
  • It will also act as India’s status report to the convention.

Causes of land degradation identified by the study:

  1. Water Erosion (26 percent)
  2. Degrading vegetation ( around 9 percent)
  3. Land or Soil erosion due to wind.

Other causes:

  • Unsustainable land use which included over cultivation, over grazing, deforestation and poor irrigation activities.
  • Climatic fluctuations.
  • Natural bio-organisms in the soil cannot degrade xenobiotics ( man-made chemicals and other materials), which are introduced for a better yield. These aliens adversely affect land.
  • The relatively low priority given to environmental protection often leads to poor land management decisions.
  • Ignorance, errors, and natural and man-made disasters can also contribute to land degradation.
  • An expanding human population is the ultimate driving force behind desertification. More people in an area inevitably exert a greater pressure on that area’s resources.

Implications of land degradation:

  • Earlier both soil erosion and formation took millions of years, but now the erosion process has accelerated due to various reasons and the formation still takes a lot of time.
  • Land degradation at such a huge scale undermines land’s productivity and raises concerns for food security, thereby leading to poverty.
  • Desertification and Land degradation will not only affect food supply but lead to increased migration and threaten the stability of many nations and regions.
  • It is a global issue, with serious implications worldwide for biodiversity, eco-safety, poverty eradication, socio-economic stability and sustainable development.

Way Ahead:

  • Reforestation and tree regeneration.
  • Water management- saving, reuse of treated water, rainwater harvesting, desalination, or direct use of sea water for salt loving plants.
  • Fixating the soil through the use of sand fences, shelter belts, woodlots and wind breaks.
  • Enrichment and hyper-fertilizing of soil through planting.

Also read: Empowering India’s Aspirational Districts


  • 17 June is observed as the “International Day to Combat Desertification”.
  • The theme for 2016– ” Inclusive cooperation for achieving Land Degradation Neutrality”.


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