Impact of climate change – Thar Desert, India

The Thar Desert is located in north-west India. It is one of the major hot deserts of the world with the highest population density. Many people living in this desert are subsistence farmers, but with increasing development opportunities, the human population is also growing. Due to population pressures this environment is increasingly under threat. One of the biggest concerns in this region is the process of desertification.

Desertification

Desertification is the process of land turning into desert as the quality of the soil declines over time. Many countries around the world suffer from the problems caused by desertification. The main causes of desertification include:

  • Population growth - the population in some desert areas is increasing. In places where there are developments in mining and tourism, people are attracted by jobs. An increased population is putting greater pressure on the environment for resources such as wood and water.
  • Removal of wood - in developing countries, people use wood for cooking. As the population in desert areas increases, there is a greater need for fuel wood. When the land is cleared of trees, the roots of the trees no longer hold the soil together so it is more vulnerable to soil erosion.
  • Overgrazing - an increasing population results in larger desert areas being farmed. Sheep, cattle and goats are overgrazing the vegetation. This leaves the soil exposed to erosion.
  • Climate change - the global climate is getting warmer. In desert regions, conditions are not only getting warmer but drier too. On average there is less rain now in desert regions than there was 50 years ago.

Strategies to reduce desertification

Prevention is much more cost-effective than rehabilitation. Desertification can be reduced by adopting the following strategies.

  • Planting more trees - the roots of trees hold the soil together and help to reduce soil erosion from wind and rain.
  • Improving the quality of the soil - this can be managed by encouraging people to reduce the number of grazing animals they have and grow crops instead. The animal manure can be used to fertilise the crops grown. Growing crops in this way can improve the quality of the soil as it is held together by the roots of plants and protected from erosion. This type of farming is more sustainable.
  • Water management - water can be stored in earth dams in the wet season and used to irrigate crops during the dry season. This is an example of using appropriate technology to manage water supplies in the desert environment.
  • Magic stones (or bunds) are circles of stones placed on the ground to hold water on the soil rather than letting it run quickly over the surface.