Biodiversity refers to the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic eco-systems and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This includes diversity within species (genetic diversity), between species and of ecosystems. Through out the world; it is known that Tropical forest systems are the most species rich environments. Although they cover less than 10 percent of world’s surface, they may contain 90 percent of the world’s species. The most species rich areas are the coral reefs. Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.
This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from 3 to 100 million. Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species – for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species. Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes. In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and soil around them. It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans. Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives. Around 1.75 million species have been named by taxonomists to date (UNEP-WCMC 2000: United Nations Environmental Program and World Conservation Monitoring Center). The total number of species has recently been estimated as 14 million throughout the world and according to “Animal” (World Book Encyclopedia. 16 vols. Chicago: World Book, 2003) there are about 50 million species throughout the world. These living organisms do contribute to a wide variety of environmental services, such as regulation of gaseous composition of the atmosphere, protection of coastal zones, regulation of hydrological cycle and climate, generation and conservation of fertile soils, dispersal and breakdown of wastes, pollination of many crops and absorption of pollutants. The most interesting thing is that many of these services by macro as well as micro organisms are not widely accepted and neither widely recognized nor properly valued in economic terms throughout the world. However, the combined economic value of ecosystem services has recently been estimated in the range of US$16-54 Trillion per year and mounting. The important fact lies that human health and well being are directly dependent on bio-diversity. Any changes to that bring an imbalance in the Natural Eco-system and bring a Disaster. We try to explore nature for our development; which is our need and Nature needs to sustain itself for its survival; in turn for our survival. Whenever this imbalance reaches its limit; a natural disaster occurs. The importance of biodiversity also lies in the fact that 10 of the world’s 25 Top selling drugs for medicinal purposes were derived from natural sources. The global market value of pharmaceuticals derived from genetic resources is estimated at US$75,000-1,50,000 million annually. Some 75 percent of the world’s population relies on health care on traditional medicines, which are derived directly from natural sources (UNDP, UNEP, WORLD BANK and WRI 2000). Not only that, biodiversity also provides genetic resources for food and agriculture, and therefore constitutes the biological basis for world food security and support for human livelihoods. But for various reasons; throughout the world, Global biodiversity is changing at a unprecedented rate; the most important drivers of this change being land conversion, climate change, pollution, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources and the introduction of exotic species. The relative importance of these drivers differs between eco-systems. For example land conversion is most intensive in tropical forests and less intensive in temperate, boreal and arctic regions; atmospheric nitrogen deposition is largest in northern temperate areas close to cities; introduction of exotic species is related to patterns of human activity – those areas remote from human intervention generally receive fewer introduced species. The ultimate causes of biodiversity loss are human population growth together with unsustainable patterns of consumption, increasing production of waste and pollutants, urban development, internal conflict and continuing inequities in the distribution of wealth and resources. The most significant response to the crisis of biodiversity during the past 35 years has been the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which entered into force on 1993.
The convention has 3 main goals to achieve. Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. Conceived as a practical tool for translating the principles of Agenda 21 into reality, the Convention recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live. It had been signed by around 182 Parties by December 2001.
Thus as an international treaty identifies a common problem, sets overall goals and policies and general obligations, and organizes technical and financial cooperation. However, the responsibility for achieving its goals rests largely with the countries and the people themselves.
The impact of climate change on biodiversity to date is still unclear. The increasing incidence of coral reef bleaching may be a consequence of recent rises in global ocean temperature. Reports of coral bleaching have increased greatly since 1989, with all records of mass bleaching occurring after this date. The most significant mass bleaching was associated with the 1997-1998 ENSO Event, when all ten reef provinces of the world were affected. In some areas, most notably the Indian Ocean, this event was followed by mass mortality, where upto 90 percent of the corals died over thousands of square kilometers.
India is very rich in biodiversity. The most important regions being the
- Chilka Lake
- Western Ghats
- Thar Desert
- Andaman and Nicober Islands
India has a rich and varied heritage of biodiversity, encompassing a wide spectrum of habitats from tropical rainforests to alpine vegetation and from temperate forests to coastal wetlands. India figured with two hotspots – the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas – in an identification of 18 biodiversity hotspots carried out in the eighties (Myers. 1988). Recently, Norman Myers and a team of scientists have brought out an updated list of 25 hotspots (Myers et. al. 2000). In the revised classification, the 2 hotspots that extend into India are The Western Ghats /Sri Lanka and the Indo-Burma region (covering the Eastern Himalayas); and they are included amongst the top eight most important hotspots. In addition, India has 26 recognized endemic centers that are home to nearly a third of all the flowering plants identified and described to date. Of the estimated 5–50 million species of the world’s biota, only 1.7 million have been described to date (Groombridge, and Jenkins. 2000), and the distribution is highly uneven. About seven per cent of the world’s total land area is home to half of the world’s species, with the tropics alone accounting for 5 million. India contributes significantly to this latitudinal biodiversity trend. With a mere 2.4% of the world’s area, India accounts for 7.31% of the global faunal total with a faunal species count of 89,451 species (MoEF. 1999). Some salient features of India’s biodiversity have been mentioned below.India has ten biogeographic regions including the Trans-Himalayan, the Himalayan, the Indian desert, the semi-arid zone(s), the Western Ghats, the Deccan Peninsula, the Gangetic Plain, North-East India, and the islands and coasts (Rodgers and Panwar. 1988). India is one of the 12 centers of origin of cultivated plants.
India has 5 world heritage sites, 12 biosphere reserves, and 6 Ramsar wetlands. Amongst the protected areas, India has 88 national parks and 490 sanctuaries covering an area of 1.53 lakh sq. km.The endemism of Indian biodiversity is high. About 33% of the country’s recorded flora are endemic to the country and are concentrated mainly in the North-East, Western Ghats, North-West Himalaya and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Of the 49,219 plant species, 5150 are endemic and distributed into 141 genera under 47 families corresponding to about 30% of the world’s recorded flora, which means 30% of the world’s recorded floras are endemic to India. Of these endemic species, 3,500 are found in the Himalayas and adjoining regions and 1600 in the Western Ghats alone. About 62% of the known amphibian species are endemic with the majority occurring in the Western Ghats. Nearly 50% of the lizards of India are endemic with a high degree of endemicity in the Western Ghats. India is a centre of crop diversity – the homeland of 167 cultivated species and 320 wild relatives of crop plants.
India’s record in agro-biodiversity is equally impressive. There are 167 crop species and wild relatives. India is considered to be the center of origin of 30,000-50,000 varieties of rice, pigeon-pea, mango, turmeric, ginger, sugarcane, gooseberries etc and ranks seventh in terms of contribution to world agriculture.
Comparative statement of recorded number of plant species in India and the world
of India to
Source. MOEF 1999, Government of India
Biosphere reserves of India
|Name of the site||Date of notification||Area in Sq. km||Location (State)|
|Nilgiri||01.08.86||5,520||Parr of Wynad , Nagarhole, Bandipur and Madumalai, Nilambur, Silent Valley and Siruvani hills (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka)|
|Nanda Devi||18.01.88||5,860.69||Par of Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Almora Districts (Uttaranchal)|
|Nokrerk||01.09.88||820||Part of Gora Hills (Meghalaya)|
|Manas||14.03.89||2,837||Part of Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamprup and Darang district (Assam)|
|Sunderbans||29.03.89||9,630||Part of delta of Ganga & Brahamaputra river system (West Bengal)|
|Gulf of Mannar||18.02.89||10,500||Indan part of Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka (Tamil Nadu)|
|Great Nicobar||06.01.89||885||Southern most islands of Andaman and Nicobar (A&N islands)|
|Similpal||21.06.94||4,374||Part of Mayurbhanj district (Orissa)|
|Dibru-Saikhowa||28.07.97||765||Part of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia district (Assam)|
|Dehang Debang||02.09.98||5,112||Part of Siang and Debang velley (Arunachal Pradesh)|
|Pachmarhi||03.03.99||4,926.28||Parts of Betul, Hoshangabad and Chindwara districts (Madhya Pradesh)|
|Kanchanjanga||07.02.00||2,619.92||Part of Kanchanjanga Hills (Sikkim)|
Source: MOEF 2000, Government of India
India’s World heritage sites
|Kaziranga National Park||Assam|
|Keoladeo Ghana National Park||Rajasthan|
|Manas Wildlife Sanctuary||Assam|
|Nanda Devi National Park||Uttar Pradesh|
|Sundarban National Park||West Bengal|
Source: MOEF 1999, Government of India
Table: Threatened Animals of India by Status Category
Ex-extinct; EW-Extinct in the Wild; CR- Critically Endangered; VU-Vulnerable; LR/cd-Lower Risk conservation dependent; LR/nT- Lower Risk near threatened; DD-Data Deficient
Source: IUCN 2000Though assessment of the impact of policy responses to pressures on biodiversity is limited by the lack of a comprehensive system for monitoring; for collating relevant data and for presenting information in a consistent manner. In general, it is accepted that biodiversity continues to decline. Most examples of successful conservation action are those where particular attention and considerable financial resources have been focused on individual species or localized areas. Many threats to biodiversity such as habitat loss and invasion by introduced species continue to intensify. In addition, new threats may be emerging , such as climate change and bio-invasion (It is the influx of alien species. These are considered invasive when they become established in natural habitats, are agents of change, and threaten native biological diversity. Alien invasive species include bacteria, viruses, fungi, insects, mollusks, plants, fish, mammals and birds :- IUCN 2001). So, loss of biodiversity in India as well as the world will definitely create an environmental problem and will be the cause of a Natural Disaster of greater magnitude. Deforestation due to various reasons, increase of pollutants leading to large amounts of toxic inputs in our environment; together with hazardous wastes of all kinds does make the matter more worse.
The purifying system of nature could not act against those huge toxic inputs of humankind.
The result is a disaster.
That’s the time; when we do see Flood in deserts; for example the border district of Barmer drowned under 577 mm of rainfall submerging 88 villages with an approximate population of about 20 lakh or just finding snow in Dubai and parts of Europe saw a blinding heat wave which killed many, especially the elderly, since they just don’t know how to cope with this unpredictable extremities.
Some of the policies, which can be taken into account for biodiversity conservation, are:
· Identifying and monitoring the important components of biological diversity that needs to be conserved and used sustainably.
· Establishing protected areas to conserve biological diversity while promoting environmentally sound development around these areas.
· Respecting, preserving and maintaining traditional knowledge of the sustainable use of biological diversity with the involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities.
· Educating people and raising awareness about the importance of biological diversity and the need to conserve it
· Promoting public participation, particularly when it comes to assessing the environmental impacts of development projects that threaten biological diversity and protecting the biodiversity hot spots from alien species.
Biodiversity conservation is an important step towards a successful disaster management and if policies are implemented to protect it, then we can get one step closer in making a Disaster Free World.
Thanks a lot for taking your time and reading the post. Please put a comment, if your time permits. Incase, there is any mistake in the data, it will be very kind of you, if you please let me know at my e-mail address.
– Mainak Majumdar
Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant