When you imagine development, what do you see? Tall buildings, big houses, huge industries, big farms, better infrastructure, more workplaces, better transport, food and education for all?
Land is the common entity to all these. It is one of the most valuable and expensive assets in today’s times. However, beyond land management, lies soil – a natural resource that sustains life on earth.
It is literally the root of our natural ecosystems. Also, it is the foundation of all social and economic development. December 5 is celebrated annually as World Soil Day to increase awareness on the importance of soil for our existence.
Healthy soil is essential for a healthy ecosystem and humans. However, increased urbanization and industrialization has increased land-use change and declined soil health over the years. Besides, there are factors like unsustainable soil management practices, growing dependence on single-use plastics, pollution, climate change and invasive species. These together have led to a constant decline in soil quality and health over the years.
About World Soil Day
Sustainable management of soil is key to addressing the demands of a growing population. Also, it is essential for a food-secure future and a sustainable ecosystem supporting all life forms. The UN General Assembly declared World Soil Day in December 2013. It was endorsed after noting the economic and social significance of good land management and the importance of soil for our sustenance.
In 2020, the theme of World Soil Day is ‘Keep Soil Alive, Protect Soil Biodiversity.’
Soil and the SDGs
The sustainability of our communities depends on the wise use of natural resources. Soil is key to sustaining agricultural development, essential environmental functions, infrastructural development, food security, and for clean water and air. Thus, soil management directly or indirectly affects each of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Let us look at some of the functions of soil and how it affects a few SDGs:
|SDG||How Soil Contributes|
|1 End Poverty||Food and wood cultivation, flood mitigation, filtering nutrients and contaminants|
|2 Zero Hunger||Food cultivation, development of infrastructure for humans and animals|
|3 Good Health and Well-Being||Provision of food and wood, flood mitigation, development of infrastructure for human and animals, recreation, biodiversity pool|
|8 Decent Work and Economic Growth||Provision of food, wood, raw materials, development of infrastructure for humans and animals,|
|15 Life on Land||Provision of food, wood, raw materials, development of infrastructure for humans and animals, irrigation, flood mitigation, recreation|
The above table shows how important soil is for our sustenance and well-being. Just 5 of the 17 SDGs that we considered are impacted greatly by soil functions.
However, while land is valued highly, little or no attention is paid to soil.
Soil pollution is a key environmental challenge that has been growing with increasing urbanization, industrialization, and mindless deforestation. Intended as well as unintended activities cause soil pollution.
Sewage released from homes and buildings without treatment pollutes and contaminates the soil. Pollutants released from industries include toxic wastes like heavy metals which contaminate the soil. When we consume food grown in such soil, the toxins enter our bodies.
Agricultural pollution is caused by using toxic pesticides and insecticides that contaminate the soil. Disposal of waste, including medical waste, in landfills, causes the leaching of harmful chemicals into the soil.
Fighting Soil Pollution
Governments must take remedial measures in collaboration with corporates, industries, individuals and institutions to combat soil pollution that is bound to grow in the coming years.
Here is why we need to take sustainable measures, reduce waste generated by us, and work faster towards reducing soil pollution:
- The use and production of chemicals have increased rampantly over the years. It is projected to increase annually by 3.4% until 2030.
- Global production of municipal solid waste was around 1.3 billion tonnes in 2012. It is expected to increase to 2.3 billion tonnes by 2022. Sadly, the most common type of waste generated is food and green waste.
- Global manure production has increased by 66% from 1961 to 2016. Manure can contain high amounts of heavy metals like copper, zinc and arsenic.
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