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Application of remote sensing and GIS for sustainable development

D.P. Rao
National Remote Sensing Agency (Dept, of Space, Govt, of India)
Balanagar, Hyderabad - 500037 (INDIA)
E-mail : director@nrsa.gov.in
Over exploitation of natural resources for meeting the growing demand for food, fuel and fibre of increasing population has led to
serious environmental degradation. Sustainable development calls for utilizing available natural resources based on their potential
and limitations. Information on the nature, extent and spatial distribution of various natural resources is pre-requisite for achieving
the above mentioned goal. Spaceborne spectral measurements by virtue of providing synoptic coverage at a regular interval, offer
immense potential for generating such information in a timely and cost-effective manner. The article provides an overview of the
concept of sustainable development and sustainability, identifies sustainability indices, and through illustration demonstrates the
utility of space technology in achieving and monitoring the sustainable development. Further, a glimpse of the future scenario is
also provided.
With only 55 per cent of the geographical area of
the world, the developing countries carry 75 per cent of
the world population which leads to over-exploitation of
natural resources. Over exploitation of available natural
resources for meeting the ever increasing demand for
food, fuel and fiber has led to serious environmental
degradation. Globally, an estimated 1,965 million ha of
land are subject to some kind of degradation. Of this,
1,094 million ha of land are subject to soil erosion by
water and 549 million ha of land to soil erosion by wind
(UNEP/ISRICJ991). In addition, an estimated 954.8
million ha of land are affected by salinity and sodicity or
both (Szabolcs, 1992) and another 3,600 million ha of
global area comprising of hilly regions of the humid
tropics of India, Manchurea, Korea, south-west China
and Africa are under shifting cultivation (Schlippe,
1956; Conklin, 1957). In India alone, out of 328 million
ha geographical area, 150 million ha of land are affected
by wind and water erosion (Anonymous, 1976).
Annually, an estimated 6000 million tonnes of soil is
lost through soil erosion by water (Das, 1985).
Apart from this, shifting cultivation, waterlogging,
and salinization and / alkalinization have affected an
estimated 4.36 million ha, 6 million ha and 7.16 million
ha of land respectively (Anonymous, 1976). Frequent
floods and drought further compound the problem.
Degradation by way of deforestation for timber and fuel
wood, shifting cultivation and occasionally forest fire is
a very serious environmental problem. Besides, another
equally important aspect of the sustainability of
vegetation is the bio-diversity that need to be preserved.
Water resources both surface as well as ground
water are very crucial for sustaining flora and fauna.
Over exploitation of ground water and wastage of
precipitation water as run-off are the major issues which
are to be addressed in the context of sustainable
development. In addition, pollution of water by mining
waste, solid wastes and sewage need to be checked.
Anthropogenic activities along the coast may further
deteriorate the delicate coastal ecosystem. In the event of
major climatic change, coastal areas are going to be
affected more. In addition, exploitation of marine
resources especially off-shore oil drilling and ocean
water pollution due to effluents from industries, solid
wastes and oil-spilled over from ships may affect the
ocean environment.
Apart from land and water resources, the natural
calamity too comes in the way of sustainable develop
ment. Drought and desertification exercise major control
on agricultural production and other developmental
activities. Advance preparedness is, therefore, needed
for combating drought. For controlling desertification
comprehensive anti-desertification programmes need to
be developed. Lastly, rapid industrialization and
deforestation have led to building up of greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere which has resulted in global
warming. C0 2 concentration has increased from 280
ppm during 1850 to 350 ppm at present. Similarly, the
concentration of methane (CH 4 ) has increased from 0.85
ppm during 1850 to 1.7 ppm at present. Besides,
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) with very long residence
time (over 100 years) and nitrous oxide (N 2 0) have
further added to environmental problem. The increase in
the concentration of green house gases have resulted in