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Lot of work remains to be done to tackle land degradation: Modi at UN meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on measures India is taking at home to address the situation and helping other developing nations in the spirit of South-South cooperation.
By Yashwant Raj I Edited by Amit Chanda
UPDATED ON JUN 15, 2021 12:04 AM IST
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at UN 'High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation & Drought', in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday reiterated the need for the world to come together to combat land degradation as a “collective responsibility” as it threatens the very foundations the societies and economies are built on and called for more actions saying, “a lot of work lies ahead of us”.

Virtually delivering a keynote address at a high-level meeting at the United Nations on land degradation and drought, Modi went on to detail steps and measures India is taking at home to address the situation and helping other developing nations in the spirit of South-South cooperation.

“It is mankind’s collective responsibility to reverse the damage to land caused by human activity,” the prime minister said, in his capacity as the president of the 14th Session of the Conference of Parties of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

If left unchecked, land degradation “will erode the very foundation of our societies, economies, food security, health, safety and quality of life,” he said further, and added that the world must “reduce the tremendous pressure on land and its resources. Clearly, a lot of work lies ahead of us”.

The United Nations has estimated that one-fifth of Earth’s land area - which is more than 2 billion hectares - is degraded, including more than half of all agricultural land. And 12 million hectares of land is lost to desertification, land degradation and drought each year. In all, nearly, 95% of calories from food come from soil, yet top soil erosion has accelerated by tenfold due to human activity. The world loses 24 billion tons of fertile soil annually due to dry-land degradation, with significant negative impacts on food production and economic activity.

The high-level dialogue launched on Monday will assess progress made in this fight against land degradation and propose a way forward at the end of the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification, and the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s commitment to the cause linking it to the “importance (India gives) to land and (considers) the sacred earth as our Mother”.

Modi said India has taken the lead to highlight land degradation issues at international forums and pointed to the “Delhi Declaration” of 2019, which had called for “better access and stewardship over land” and emphasise gender-sensitive transformative projects.

Over the last 10 years, India has added around three million hectares of forest cover, which, he said, enhanced the cumulative forest cover to almost one-fourth of the country’s total area, he said, adding, “We are on track to achieve our national commitment of land degradation neutrality.”

India is also working to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, which would help create an additional carbon sink - natural assets that absorb carbon dioxide - of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. “We believe that restoration of land can start a cycle for good soil health, increased land productivity, food security and improved livelihoods,” the prime minister said, and went on to speak of “novel” efforts under way in the Banni region in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, which is marked by degraded land and lack of rain. India is restoring land there by developing grasslands.

Modi then turned to assistance India is providing to others to deal with land degradation, which, he said, poses a special challenge to the developing world. “In the spirit of South-South cooperation, India is assisting fellow developing countries to develop land restoration strategies,” he added.

India is setting up a centre of excellence “to promote a scientific approach towards land degradation issues”.

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