Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Evaluating Environmental Sensitivity of Arid and Semiarid Regions in Northeastern Rajasthan, India

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Evaluating Environmental Sensitivity of Arid and Semiarid Regions in Northeastern Rajasthan, India

Article excerpt

Desertification is a major problem in the arid and semi-arid regions of India, directly affecting the livelihood of its inhabitants. The problem is more severe in the arid lands of India's north-west, especially in the desert tracts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, and also in the states of Haryana and Punjab. It is an important factor behind land degradation, which impacts agricultural productivity, bio-diversity, groundwater, and overall water availability (Joshi and Solanki 2009). As well, desertification leads to sand encroachment on urban areas, farms, roads and railways, air pollution, and the destruction of the natural habitats of variety of flora and fauna, threating the region's biodiversity (Kundu and Dutta 2011). Degradation of the natural environment results in the migration of pastoralists, nomads, and residents from rural areas to cities in search of livelihood, which contributes to increase pressure on urban resources. A consequence of all these factors is a decline in the quality of life, eventually affecting the socio-economic status of the region. Thus, considering the effective indicators leading to desertification is important (Soyza and others 1998).

The main causes leading to the accelerated rate of conversion of fertile land to arid land are deforestation, drought, unsustainable agricultural practices, unsustainable water-management practices, land use changes, industrial and mining activities, and demographic pressure (Joshi and Solanki 2009).

Environmental systems are generally in a state of a dynamic equilibrium with external driving forces. If there is a change in the driving forces, such as climate or imposed land use, it tends to be accommodated by a small change in equilibrium, and hence partially absorbed or buffered by the system (Gad and Lotfy 2008). Desertification proceeds when certain land components go beyond a specific threshold, which leads to irreversible changes. For example, climate change does not bring about desertification by itself, but generally leads to a disruption of some critical threshold, so that the system can no longer maintain its equilibrium. In particular, dry-land ecosystems areas having an aridity index of less than 0.65 are more prone to desertification (UNEP 1997). Dry-lands cover approximately one-third of the world's land area and are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use. Dry-lands are home to more than 38 percent of the total global population (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005; Reynolds and others 2007; UNCCD 2008). The statistics on degraded lands as a result of desertification published by various non-governmental agencies not only vary widely, but the nomenclature of degraded lands also differs considerably. Most likely, the true level of degradation in dry-lands lies somewhere between 10 percent (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) and 20 percent with over 250 million people directly affected by land degradation (Reynolds and others 2007; UNCCD 2008). A rapid inventory of degraded lands is necessary to generate realistic database from which to proceed. The deployment of remote sensing techniques is a first step of strategic planning in the arid regions of India.

The region surrounding the Aravalli ranges of Rajasthan is highly sensitive to desertification due to its unsuitable soil condition and texture (due to poor parent material), low vegetation cover, and arid climatic conditions. Yet this area is also extensively cultivated via irrigation, and a majority of the population depends on agriculture as their primary source of income (Census of India 2011). Currently, there is no map that spatially delineates environmentally sensitive areas, in the state of Rajasthan. One of the most serious problems to the adjoining districts of the Thar Desert is the encroachment of the desert eastward (Kundu and Dutta 2011). The Jhunjhunun and Sikar districts of Rajasthan, lying on the eastern boundary of the Thar Desert, have been chosen for this study area as they are expected to show changes to the spatial extent of the arid areas over the few years. …

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