Data from the State of India's Environment 2020 report revealed that 21% of the country's forests are degraded, and 70% of its wetlands have been lost.
India’s natural heritage is a source of pride and sustenance, but it faces an ever-increasing threat from deforestation, pollution, and climate change. To combat these challenges and safeguard the future, ecosystem restoration emerges as a powerful tool with the potential to heal damaged landscapes and create a more sustainable future for the nation.
The state of ecosystems in India is at a pivotal stage. Data from the State of India’s Environment 2020 report revealed that 21% of the country’s forests are degraded, and 70% of its wetlands have been lost. Further, in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), India was ranked 180th among 180 countries in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in 2022. The ripple effects of these degradations include heightened risks of flooding, drought, soil erosion, and a decline in biodiversity resulting in increased vulnerabilitity of local communities from climate change. It is the need of the hour to act upon this and ensure that we utilise what is often called the golden hour to take remedial steps against biodiversity loss.
Reaping the Benefits of Restoration
Ecosystem restoration holds the key to addressing the impact of climate change. India, with its varied topography, is susceptible to many climates change-induced disasters. By actively restoring degraded ecosystems, we can effectively mitigate these effects, enhance water quality and availability, and safeguard biodiversity for generations to come.
Ecosystem restoration not only has ecological merits, but it also presents economic advantages. By creating jobs and boosting tourism, ecosystem restoration can contribute to the well-being of local communities and reinforce the overall health of India’s economy. One of the main economic benefits of ecosystem restoration is job creation. The restoration of degraded land can create jobs for farmers, laborers, and entrepreneurs. In India, the restoration of 26 million hectares of forest land by 2030 could create an estimated 3.75 million jobs.
Another economic benefit of ecosystem restoration is a boost to tourism. Restored ecosystems can attract tourists, which can generate income for local communities. For example, the restoration of wetlands can attract birdwatchers, while the restoration of forests can attract hikers and campers. In India, tourism is a major source of income, and ecosystem restoration could help to further boost this sector.
Seizing the Opportunity for Change
There is still a window of opportunity to reverse the damage done to India’s ecosystems. Embracing ecosystem restoration is a proven pathway to heal our wounded landscapes and create a more resilient and sustainable future.
Recent years have witnessed an increasing acknowledgment of the significance of ecosystem restoration in India. The government has taken several steps by making commitments to restoration initiatives along with the civil society crucially supporting the endeavour.
However, for meaningful progress to be achieved, more concerted efforts are required. Adequate funding must be allocated, and greater coordination between stakeholders involved in restoration projects is imperative to optimize the impact of these initiatives.
Paving the Way Forward
The path ahead entails scaling up ecosystem restoration efforts throughout India. Investing in well-managed restoration projects is essential to achieve the desired outcomes and maximize the positive effects on the environment and society.
Additionally, raising awareness about the benefits of ecosystem restoration is critical. By disseminating knowledge about the significance of these initiatives, we can inspire greater public engagement and garner support for restoration initiatives.
A Collective Commitment to Restoration
Let us pledge to take decisive action for ecosystem restoration in India. By coming together, we can reclaim and protect our natural heritage, leaving behind a legacy of environmental sustainability and resilience.
By nurturing our ecosystems through restoration, we can build a better future for India—one that thrives in harmony with nature and provides a flourishing environment for both current and future generations. Let us stand in solidarity to safeguard the ecological balance and secure the well-being of our nation.
(This article is authored by Swati Bhattacharya, Group Vice President Communications, Raintree Foundation)