World Soil Day is commemorated every 5 December to remind us that soil is important for both the natural system and human well-being.
Our laxity in taking care of the soil partly comes from the assumption that land is abundant. It is also because most of us are no longer directly reliant on the land. Thus, both the produce from the land and the negative impacts of degrading land are often far removed from our reality. This indirect link between us and land degradation also means that most of the solutions to these problems are quick fixes that address the symptoms, but not the real, underlying causes.
Soil pollution is a form of land degradation. It is pervasive in most of the developed countries due to the extensive and long-term use of agricultural inputs, for instance, and is a problem in many developing countries as well. Soil pollution can short-circuit the natural processes that help to form fertile and productive soil. The extraction of minerals and careless disposal of waste are also key sources of soil pollution. A polluted soil is a degraded soil, which negatively impacts land cover, plant productivity, survival of biological diversity, ground water quality and sources, and the organic carbon in the soil. Ultimately, it harms people’s health.
In 2013, governments agreed on five indicators for monitoring land degradation in all these areas. So far, 145 countries have officially submitted reports that monitor these changes. In January 2019, governments and other stakeholders will meet in Georgetown, Guyana, to examine where and how their interventions helped to avoid, reduce or reverse land degradation, and where more work is needed. These results can point countries towards solutions to all forms of land degradation, including soil pollution.
The use of Earth Observations, which combines satellite imagery and data gathered from the ground, will help ordinary people to “see” not just where land is degraded but how seriously it is degraded. The physical monitoring of land degradation will help countries to find targeted solutions. Such a holistic approach that combines monitoring through actual measurement and targeted action will enable the international community to resolve many of the global challenges linked to soil and land degradation. Governments now only have the tools they need to improve soil quality effectively, and achieve land degradation neutrality; that is, avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation to ensure the productive land that was available in 2015 stays stable by 2030 and beyond.
Adequate finance to meet these goals remains a critical challenge. But with these new tools, countries and populations affected by land degradation can put the limited resources available to them to maximum use, and revitalize the land and boost the resilience of their communities.
These are positive developments worth sharing to address soil pollution in our commemoration of the World Soil Day this year.