What is Environmental Degradation?
Environmental degradation is defined as any change or deterioration which causes severe harm to the natural environment through destruction of natural resources such as soil, water, and air including the ecosystem hence it is a decline in the quality of the natural environment.
The rate of environmental impact varies with the cause, the habitat, and the plants and animals that inhabit it; however, humans and their activities are the major source of environmental degradation.
The concept of environmental degradation simply refers to disasters which affects lives and properties within our environment as a result of the action of man and other natural phenomena. There are several examples of environmental degradations today in the world ranging from pollution, drought, earthquake, deforestation, drought, flooding, soil erosion, landslide, desertification etc. Environmental degradation comes with its many risks mostly directly on human health by exposing people to harmful agents or indirectly by disrupting life sustaining ecosystem.
Types of Environmental Degradation
Pollution is the contamination of air, water or food in such a way as to cause real or potential harm to human health or well-being or to damage non-human nature without any justification. Pollution is one of leading causes of environmental degradation.The substances may be human-made or natural Harm occurs when the receiving environment cannot easily assimilate the type or quantity of substance released. The effects of pollution range from aesthetic nuisance through to economic loss, health damage, death and long-term environmental degradation. Pollution can occur naturally or by manmade and it is often divided into air, water and soil, land and noise pollution
Deforestation is a serious type of environmental degradation, it is an act of indiscriminate felling of lumberable trees and forests for timber and agricultural purposes thereby leading to the destruction of the natural forest. Deforestation has been one of the major causes of environmental degradation too with the increase in human population and the growing need for resources, forests are cleared for human habitation, for furniture, for collecting wood as fuel, for agricultural operations and for grazing of livestock.
The removal of topsoil is calledsoil erosion, it occurs both in wet and dry regions. It mostly leads to floods. Soil has multi-functionality including environmental quality, the global climate change and repository for urban industrial waste. The importance of soil to human-well-being is often not realized until the production of food drops is jeopardized when the soil is severely eroded or degraded to a certain level that it loses its inherent resilience. Soil erosion does not only reduce soil fertility, it reduces crop production and biodiversity, but also alters water quality and increase risk of global climate change and environmental quality. Soil erosion factors are water, wind, ocean, waves and glaciers, felling of trees, overgrazing by cattle, over-cropping etc.
Drought simply refers to dryness which occurs as a result of lack of precipitation or rainfall received within an area at any given period of time. High rate of evapo-transpiration, low humidity and high daily temperature without corresponding rainfall are some of the major causes of drought. Drought, desertification, and water scarcity may likely increase in the future due to global warming. These phenomena are projected to affect about one-third of the worlds current population. Droughts are likely to displace millions of people all over the world hence affecting food insecurity and human livelihoods.
Desertification is the process by which an area of land becomes a desert as a result of change of climate (changes in the amount of sunlight reflected by different vegetation), lack of precipitation, drought or through human activity such as the removal of vegetation cover, through overgrazing, deforestation or continuous cultivation of farmland. Desertification often starts as patchy destruction of productive land and gradually extends to a vast area of land; it is an irreversible change in a land resource. Losses are considered irreversible and if recovery would take more than a decade. It is one of the principal barriers to sustainable food security and sustainable livelihoods in our world today.
This mostly occurs in a mountainous environment (hilly slopes). Landslide takes place when large quantities of loosened surface rocks and soil suddenly slide down a steep slope such as a cliff face, a valley side or an embankment. Landslide are often triggered off by an earthquake or by prolonged erosion, this type of environmental degradation is most rapid of all and very destructive to lives and property.
A high flow of water released from river and streambeds, which causes the riverbank margins to overflow and lead to the runoff of low land areas surrounding the river catchments is called flood. Flood is a major type of environmental degradation that has devastated many parts of the world on a regular basis. It usually occurs as a result of abnormally heavy rains, dam failures, snow melts, or river blockages. As a result, excess flowing water breaks its embankment and overflows into nearby lands as flood. Immense flooded areas have reduced the habitat for tropical organisms and restrict the use of the land for other purposes.
Environmental Degradation Causes
- Geological processes and anthropogenic activities are chiefly responsible for environmental degradation.
- Industrial activities have contributed to the degradation of the environment and the demise of a number of species.
- Dumping of waste and slurry could also lead to the degradation of land and soil.
- Poverty and the exploitation of natural resources usually result in environmental degradation unless proper measures are taken to prevent it.
- Indiscriminate use of forests and forest litter has brought about serious changes both in land and water.
- Urbanisation rates are increasing and have given birth a whole number of environmental problems that need urgent attention, high human population densities have placed a strain on the natural environment and as a result, there has been significant deforestation and the loss of natural habitat, which has in turn decreased the realms level of biodiversity.
- Landslides occur in the earths crust due to the earthquake; this can cause the devastation of cities and can bring about outbreak of fires and diseases.
Effects of Environmental Degradation
- It leads to an increase in destruction and degradation of forests and lands especially in the hill areas hence leading to heavy erosion of topsoil, erratic rainfall and recurring floods.
- Desertification has led to loss of ecological functions necessary to maintain ecosystem processes and loss of biodiversity at the ecosystem, species, or genetic level.
- Deforestation causes more than the loss of trees for fuel, building materials, paper products, or manufacturing. Another related issues of deforestation are; change in weather patterns, the loss of habitats and elimination of the role that forests play in the water cycle.
- Landslide can be a more severe cause of the soil erosion. After heavy rainfall, entire hillsides saturated with water can slide downward causing serious structural damage to buildings, homes, and agricultural plots. Tree roots help hold hillsides together and therefore help prevent landslides.
Solution to Environmental Degradation
- Planting of trees should be encouraged (afforestation), this can help prevents soil erosion and floods. Forest canopies disperse water during rainfall and create another layer of moisture in their leaves and branches, which either is used by other organisms or evaporates back into the atmosphere.
- By replacing shifting cultivation with crop rotation, mixed cropping or plantation cropping to prevent erosion.
- Pollution problem can be solved through many ways such as enacting of law to check illegal dumping of dangerous substances on land and reduction of the amount of compounds in the atmosphere that could cause harm to humans and other living organisms.
- Providing adequate drainage to irrigated and flood-prone lands can prevent flooding.
- Desertification can be controlled by the spread of appropriate plant species and by development of other sources of fuel for generating power.
- Soil erosion can be reduced through terracing which is the method of cutting steps in hill sides to reduce the velocity of water running down the hill slopes.