Climate Change

India’s northeastern states desertifying most rapidly

Half of Nagaland is degraded, flags new report

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 27 August 2021

Six states in northeastern India were among the top 10 places in the country with the highest rates of desertification between 2003 and 2018, according to a recent report. These are Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. 

Punjab, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand in northern India also witnessed some of the highest rates of desertification, the most recent estimates by Space Applications Centre under Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Land degradation is defined as decline in productivity of land in terms of biodiversity and economy, resulting from various causes, including climate and human dominance, leading to loss of ecosystem. 

Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its water bodies as well as vegetation and wildlife. 

The scientists at ISRO compared the data collected between 2003 and 2005 with that gathered in 2018-19.

Mizoram desertifying fastest 

Mizoram in the North East has been desertifying at the fastest rate in the country, the ISRO data showed.  Land degradation and desertification increased 2.8 times in the state in the 15-year period studied. 

A total of 0.18 million hectares (mha) underwent degradation/desertification in those years — an increase of over 188 per cent. 

The state lost more than 13 per cent of its land to degradation/desertification in 2018-19 itself, according to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India 

In 2003-05, 4.55 per cent of the state’s total geographical area (TGA) underwent land degradation. This increased to  8.89 per cent TGA in 2011-13, according to the ISRO atlas.

Rapid degradation in Arunachal, Nagaland

In Arunachal Pradesh, 2.4 per cent of the area or 0.2 mha underwent degradation / desertification in 2018-19. The actual figure may be small compared to other places in India but the rate of degradation was the third highest. 

Between 2003-05 and 2018-19, degradation / desertication increased 46 per cent in the state.

In Nagaland, over half the 200,683 ha geographical area was found to be degraded / desertified in 2018-19, whereas, the share of degraded land was 38.74 per cent in 2003-05.

The actual desertified area rose by over 29.4 per cent in 15 years. 

Loss of vegetation main cause 

Deforestation and loss of green cover are the main reasons for land degradation and desertification in the region. 

In Mizoram, the role of vegetation loss in the degradation of land of Mizoram increased over the years: It was responsible for 3.88 per cent of the desertification in 2003-05, 7.92 per cent in 2011-13 and 12.04 per cent in 2018-19, according to ISRO.

The entire region lost vast stretches of forests between 2011 and 2019, according to the State of India’s Forests report by the Forest Survey of India 

Mizoram, for instance, lost over 5.8 per cent of its forest cover during the period and Nagaland 6 per cent. 

Human settlements and water erosion are other main reasons behind increasing vegetation loss and the resulting desertification in these states. 

Agricultural land in Assam and Meghalaya also extensively suffered from water logging, the second factor behind the increasing desertification rates. 

Heightening climate crisis 

Land degradation reduces the soil’s ability to absorb carbon, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report.

Land degradation and climate change fuel each other, said IPCC.

The monsoon rainfall pattern of Pakke-Kessang district in Arunachal Pradesh may have been driven partly by major landscape modifications, said MD Subash Chandran, professor of ecology at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. 

The northeastern states have been receiving lower rainfall than normal for several years and the distribution is skewed, data from India Meteorological Department established.

In 2019, the region recorded a rainfall deficit of 12 per cent. Over half the districts in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram experienced deficient precipitation.

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