Khadiza Akter :: We are dependent on land resources for the food we eat, to the clothes we wear and the houses we live in. But day by day land is losing its productive capacity due to some actions of nature and human. It requires necessary attention.
We are passing through the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (2010-2020), and June 17 was the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD). The decade is an opportunity to bring crucial changes through mobilizing international efforts to fight land degradation, promoting sustainable management of land resources, and securing the long-term ability of dryland to support the livelihoods of local populations; and this day was a unique occasion to remind everyone that desertification can be effectively tackled through raising public awareness, problem-solving actions, strong community participation and cooperation at all levels.
Under the slogan “Land has true value – Invest in it”, WDCD-2018 advocated for the importance of sustainable land management and called all involved producers, consumers and policymakers to make a difference by investing in the future of land as a way to reinforce economies, create opportunities and revive people.
Desertification is the processes leading to desert-like conditions and is synonymous with land degradation. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification is turning fertile land into arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid land as a consequence of various factors including climatic variations and human activities.
Despite having about 700 rivers, an average of 2300 mm annual rainfall, and large reservation of groundwater, different regions of Bangladesh are seriously vulnerable to desertification. Day by day, due to both natural and anthropogenic causes the degree of desertification is increasing and adversely affecting the land-based production systems. It is threatening the economic growth of the country and not surprisingly, all groups of people are affected by it. Therefore, it indicates a growing recognition that access to productive land will be crucial for the future economic development, peace, and solidity of Bangladesh.
The critical driving forces that contribute to land desertification in Bangladesh are: (i) natural causes like geographical setting, climate change, low precipitation, low soil moisture, high temperature, intense degree of aridity, high evapotranspiration, wind flow, water logging, salinization, soil erosion, sandy over-wash on agricultural land etc.; and (ii) anthropogenic causes like unplanned land use for urbanization and industrialization, over extraction of ground water, deforestation, improper cultivation practices, imbalanced use of agrochemicals, low efficient irrigation system, over exploitation of biomass, cultivation of dry lands, mining, overgrazing, upstream withdrawal of Ganges water by the Farakka Barrage in India etc.
According to the Bangladesh National Action Programme for Combating Desertification, among many environmental issues facing Bangladesh, the impacts of desertification are spread over a larger geographical area than any other problems. Because of low precipitation, high evapotranspiration and improper utilization of lands, about 1,267 square km area in western and northwestern part of the country is considered as the drier region with degraded land; about 53,760 square km area in the southern region is affected by salinity hazards, increased urbanization and industrialization; about 12,505 square km area in Madhupur tract is affected by overexploitation of vegetation resources and overgrazing. Even gradually the desertification process is spreading.
Presently desertification is undoubtedly a big concern for the country as it is affecting its economy to great extent. Infertility of land and lack of water adversely affecting the production of cash crop like rice, wheat, pulses, potatoes, sugarcane etc. At the same time, it is hampering the production in animal husbandry, inland fishery, vegetation, and forestry which causing significant losses in the local economy. This loss in the local economy is leading to unemployment, reduction of income, indebtedness, poverty, and famine which bring economic instability. Limited livelihood support system and food security is forcing people to migrate from their original living place and being disconnected from their land, family, social network and cultures, which contribute to social pressures. Deterioration of the natural resources and population displacement sometimes creating conflict, political unrest and the threat to peace at the local, national and international level. And all these have a great impact on the economy of the country.
Given this context, it is clear that desertification in Bangladesh is influenced by numerous causes, and it has multidimensional impacts on its economy. Therefore, we must acknowledge that this cannot go on for long and we have to think about how we can regenerate our economy creating jobs in the land-based sector, revive people revitalizing livelihoods, and influence the market investing in sustainable land management.
The land is a tangible asset with measurable value beyond just cash and that value is lost through desertification. So we can encourage direct land users or producers to follow land management practices that keep the land productive. Productive land will create livelihood opportunity for the local people and reduce pressure on other sectors. We, the consumers can make our decisions every day with the further thought that where our money is going for food, drink, cloth or residence – “Is the food or drink I am consuming from good land use practices?” “Am I working in a land degrading project or industry?” “Has my habitation caused land degradation?” etc. Every small individual decision is important.
Wisely chosen purchases can transform the whole land use practices. Policymakers also need to respond to recover deserted lands, stop land grabbing, halt improper land use practices, fight climate change, promote afforestation, encourage bio-economy and negotiate at the regional and international level as many large international rivers pass through Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a party of UNCCD and under this convention, the government has undertaken the National Action Programme identifying the factors contributing to the process of desertification in Bangladesh and suggesting measures and strategies using an integrated and coordinated bottom-up approach. But, all this might prove insufficient unless we are aware of the consequences of desertification, and can establish a permanent system of inclusive cooperation among people, government, and non-government agencies at local, national, regional and international level.
It will also help us to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as it urged people to protect the planet from degradation through sustainable consumption, production, and management of its natural resources, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.