call for solution to soil pollution | Daily News
World Soil Day 2018

call for solution to soil pollution

World Soil Day fell on December 5. The International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), in 2002, adopted a resolution proposing December 5 as World Soil Day to raise awareness on the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human well-being.

Within the framework of the ‘Global Soil Partnership’, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has supported the formal establishment of World Soil Day as a global awareness-raising platform.

Soil is a finite natural resource and on a human time-scale it is non-renewable. However, despite the essential role that soil plays in human livelihoods, there is a worldwide increase in degradation of soil resources due to inappropriate management practices, population pressure driving unsustainable intensification of soil and land use, and inadequate governance. Therefore, the objectives of World Soil Day are to address these issues and conserve soil resources through global and national campaigns.

This year, the theme of World Soil Day is ‘Be the solution for soil pollution’ and attention has been focused on pollution, one of the most serious issues in soil degradation. In Sri Lanka too, various programmes were organised to raise awareness of soil pollution. The main programme was held in the Dambugasagala micro watershed in Welimada. The event was organised by the Rehabilitation of Degraded Agricultural Lands Project (RDALP) of the Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry, Agriculture Department and Uva Provincial Council. The RDALP project is implemented in the Kandy, Badulla and Nuwara Eliya districts in the central highlands, where soil degradation has become a serious issue today and the project is co-financed by Global Environment Facility (GEF), FAO and the Government of Sri Lanka.

According to the National Report on Desertification/Land Degradation in Sri Lanka - 2000, land degradation in the central highlands is a severe problem where steep slopes, high intensity of rainfall and inappropriate land use have led to high rate of soil erosion and landslides.

According to the Agriculture Department, the major source of land degradation is associated with agriculture. At present, the problem of soil erosion exists in 44 percent of agricultural lands in the country.

RDALP Project Manager Nimal Gunasena said that land degradation has emerged as a serious problem in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the land in the country is subjected to soil erosion. Soil erosion and soil fertility decline are the two main types of land degradation observed in the central highlands. About 50 percent of agricultural lands in the central highlands has already been degraded. Comparative studies of soil erosion by zones have shown that, out of 25 administrative districts in the country, the districts which represent the central highlands, including Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Badulla, have the highest levels of land degradation, he said.

Severe erosion takes place on sloping lands under market gardens (vegetables and potatoes), tobacco, poorly managed seedling tea and chena (slash and burn) cultivation. Land degradation in the central highlands has been threatening the ability of agro-ecosystems in the area to provide global environmental benefits and to sustain the economic activities and livelihoods of the people depending on ecosystem goods and services, Gunasena said.

The RDALP is introducing and promoting sustainable land management (SLM) practices among farmers and the public to reduce soil degradation. The RDALP campaign has also focused on attitudes change, skill development, and community participation in SLM.

RDALP has also initiated knowledge sharing and awareness programmes on SLM for schoolchildren together with the Provincial Education Department of the Central and Uva Provinces.

Under this programme, schoolchildren are encouraged to learn about land degradation through ‘outdoor learning’ activities. The objectives of the programme are to create a pleasing learning environment in the school applying SLM techniques, to develop a sense of responsibility for the land and other natural resources, and to inculcate the habit of protecting the environment from a young age.

Soil degradation creates economic and social issues as well. Decline in soil fertility leads to low yield and low income to farmers. Therefore SLM can increase soil fertility, yield and farmer income. For instance, yield in the potatoes cultivation in Welimada and Nuwara Eliya areas has now declined significantly. Therefore the RDALP campaign directly targets the increase of farmer income through introducing SLM practices, Gunasena said.

Soil pollution is also a major issue in Sri Lanka. One of the main factors for soil pollution is use of agrochemicals such as inorganic fertilizer and pesticides and weedicides. According to the FAO, since the late 1950s, Sri Lankan farmers are applying inorganic fertilizer to enhance crop yields. Productivity increase programmes and fertilizer subsidy schemes in the country paved the way for dramatic increase of agrochemical usage. During the last 15 years, importation of fertilizer to the country shows a positive trend. The SLM practices introduced by the RDALP include limiting inorganic fertilizer usage to soil and crop requirements, promoting organic fertilizer, and integrating animal husbandry and crop cultivation.

The FAO has recognised soil pollution as a hidden reality. A report published by the FAO recently titled ‘Soil Pollution a Hidden Reality’ said soil pollution often cannot be directly assessed or visually perceived, making it a hidden danger. The status of the World’s Soil Resources Report (SWSR) identified soil pollution as one of the main soil threats affecting global soils and the ecosystem services provided by them.”

According to the report, soil pollution refers to the presence in the soil of a chemical or substance out of place and/or present at a higher than normal concentration that has adverse effects on any non-targeted organism.

Concerns about soil pollution are growing in every region. Recently, the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA-3) adopted a resolution calling for accelerated actions and collaboration to address and manage soil pollution. This consensus, achieved by more than 170 countries, is a clear sign of the global relevance of soil pollution and of the willingness of these countries to develop concrete solutions to address the causes and impacts of this major threat.

The main anthropogenic sources of soil pollution are the chemicals used in or produced as byproducts of industrial activities, domestic, livestock and municipal wastes (including wastewater), agrochemicals, and petroleum-derived products.

New concerns are being raised about emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, hormones and toxins, among others, and biological pollutants, such as micropollutants in soils, which include bacteria and viruses. Based on scientific evidence, soil pollution can severely degrade the major ecosystem services provided by soil.

Soil pollution reduces food security by both reducing crop yields due to toxic levels of contaminants and by causing crops produced from polluted soils to be unsafe for consumption by animals and humans.

Scientific research demonstrates that soil pollution directly affects human health. Risks to human health arise from contamination from elements such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium, organic chemicals such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics.

Governments are also urged to facilitate remediation of contaminated soils that exceed levels established to protect the health of humans and the environment. It is also essential to limit pollution from agricultural sources by the global implementation of sustainable soil management practices, the report said.


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