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Land Pollution & Degradation: Causes, Effects & Prevention

By Denver Kunaka Last edited:July 6, 2021

Table of Contents

Landfill in Ukraine, near Rybne img credit Andy Shustykevych

Land pollution is the contamination or addition of impurities of land particularly the soil. The contamination of land then leads to land degradation. Degradation is the deterioration of land quality mostly emanating from pollution.

To distinguish between pollution and degradation, we will first list the causes of both land pollution and degradation and the causes of degradation without any prior pollution..

Causes of Land Pollution & Degradation

Human induced

    • Excessive use of fertilisers
    • Excessive irrigation
    • Pesticides and herbicides e.g. Ethly dibromide (banned)
    • Oil spills, for example the Niger Delta in Nigeria is one of the most polluted place on earth
    • Improper disposal of industrial and domestic waste
    • Gum spitting
    • Sewage bursts
    • Improper squatting
    • Nuclear explosions e.g.The Chernobyl Incident, Ukraine 1989
    • Acid rain

Naturally induced

Natural phenomenons do not contribute as much pollution compared to humans, in fact the natural environment is the one at threat of pollution.

  • Pyroclastic materials from volcanoes
  • Plant and animal decay

Causes of Land Degradation

In addition to the above causes of pollution which in turn result in degradation, degradation can also be caused directly without prior pollution

  • Direct Deforestation e.g. slash and burn
  • Direct mining e.g. open cast
  • Overgrazing
  • Stream bank cultivation
  • Land over utilisation
  • Nuclear blasts and bombs
  • Veld fires

Effects of Both Land Pollution and Degradation

All of the above causes result in the same effects, but pollution results in degradation and degradation results from pollution. After pollution has taken place the effects will lead to land degradation.

Desertification

One major cause of pollution and degradation is the deterioration of fertile lands into barren wastelands. Activities such as deforestation, over utilisation of land and excessive use of fertilisers can result in land becoming infertile which results in barrenness. Desertification has become a global concern. Many people across Africa have been negatively affected by desertification which has led to famines and hunger

Soil erosion & Mass Movements

Tonnes of soil is lost due to deforestation, land over utilisation and excessive irrigation again leading to infertility of land and desertification. In addition, this soil can find its way to rivers and choke them leading to floods

Global warming

Deforestation results in unabsorbed carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which contributes to the greenhouse and further warms the globe

Acidic soils

Fertilisers, pesticides, garbage as well as acid rain increases the acidity of the soil resulting in infertility. This results in food productions or poisoned harvests.

Depletion of species

Pollution and degradation results in certain species fleeing their habitats or dying. Deforestation can deplete birds and pesticides such as Ethyl dibromide (banned) can kill unharmful insects.

Endemics

Endemic diseases such as cholera and typhoid can result due to land pollutions such as sewage burst. Soil acids or sewage can be washed away by running water into water bodies contaminating the water for drinking.

Unpleasant Smells

Bad odors can result from sewage bursts and dump

Measures and Mitigation

Denmark is one of the cleanest country in the world; img src unsplash

Some countries have successfully curbed or are trying e.g. China to reduce land pollution and degradation.

Some campaigns include Earth Day launched in 1970 which creates awareness and best practices on the environment. It is held every 22nd of April Almost 200 countries participate in this event.

Lets Do It! World Cleanup was started in Estonia in 2008. 96 countries including Portugal, Italy and Slovenia have joined in.

In Zimbabwe, a National Cleanup Campaign was launched on 5 December 2018. The campaign was then declared to run every Friday of every first week of the month.

Most of these campaigns have been successful creating awareness and best practices among citizens.

Measures to Mitigate Land Pollution and Degradation

    • Fining industries and citizens on poor land practices
    • Substituting diesel & petrol vehicles with clean electric vehicles
    • Banning road unworthy vehicles
    • Avoiding excessive fertiliser and pesticide usage.
    • Recycling non-biodegradable materials such as plastics and diapers
    • Avoid littering and spitting anywhere. In Singapore, non -medical gum selling and chewing has been banned and comes with harsh penalties if you are caught. Australia introduced an organic swallowable gum
    • Avoid improper disposal of chemical objects such as batteries
    • Repairing damaged sewer, oil and chemical pipes

Measures to Mitigate Land Degradation

  • Afforestation and Reforestation projects to avoid erosion and desertification
  • Avoiding land over utilisation and overgrazing. This can be achieved by proper land distribution and monitoring.
  • Avoiding excess irrigation as it can lead to water logging or salinity which both of these can result in acidic soils or erosion.
  • Avoiding stream bank cultivation as it can results in land subsidence and mostly chokes rivers with silt.
  • Gully reclamation projects by planting more plants
  • Using fire guards to guard against an eventual veld fire

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