Environmental Degradation- Cause and Effects

Environment is anything that surrounds us, trees, plants, air, forests etc. all form the part of our environment and are very useful for us in one way or the other. Our natural environment provides us with clean and fresh water that we use for drinking, provides us with clean fresh air, fruits and vegetables, rain, sunlight etc. that we use in many ways for our sustenance and development. Environment degradation is a term used to describe a situation in which a part of our natural environment is damaged. It is any undesirable change or disturbance to the environment. It can be used to refer to damage to the land, to water or the air. Environmental degradation can also mean a loss of biodiversity and a loss of natural resources in an area. It is the deterioration of the natural environment through depletion of resources such as air, and soil due to pollution or any other reason, leading to the destruction of our ecosystems as well as the extinction of wildlife.  

One of the greatest challenges that mankind is facing today is the cause of environmental degradation that includes rising pollution, population, deforestation, desertification, which all leads to the climate change. Climate change and environmental degradation is an issue of increasing concern not for certain areas, but for the entire international community. Environmental degradation increases the vulnerability of the societies it affects and contributes to the scarcity of resources and at times also leads to certain natural disasters or may lead to elevated destruction at the time of a natural calamity. The primary cause of environmental degradation is the disturbance in nature caused by human. The degree of the environmental impact varies with the cause, the habitat, and the plants and animals that inhabit it.

Environmental degradation is one of the Ten Threats officially cautioned by the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations. Environment degradation can lead to scarcity of resources like fresh drinking water, clean air, vegetation etc. Climate change leads to an increase in the intensity as well as the frequency of weather extremes, such as heat waves, floods, droughts and tropical cyclones which at times can be of great discomfort as well as fatal. Those living in the most vulnerable areas, including coastal communities, small island nations, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asian delta regions are the people hardest hit by climate change and environmental degradation.

Causes and Effects of Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation can be a result of the dynamic inter-play of socio-economic, institutional and technological activities carried out by human. It would not be wrong to say that rising human demands as well as hunger is also a major factor driving the environmental degradation. Environmental changes may be driven by many factors including economic growth, population growth, urbanization, intensification of agriculture, rising energy use and transportation. Inappropriate land use can be a major cause of the soil degradation. Bad farming techniques are often responsible for land degradation. Leaving fields bare, or ploughing them up and down the sides of a hill can at times lead to severe soil erosion in the events of heavy rainfall as the soil has nothing keeping it in place. Pollution can also lead to degradation of water resources as well as affect the quality of air. There are a lot of human activities that leads to environments degradation which includes:

Water Pollution:

One of the major components of environmental degradation is the depletion of the resource of fresh water on Earth. There is an estimated amount of water that is fit for drinking and that accounts for only 2.5% of all of the water on Earth, with the rest being salt water. Of this 2.5% water a major amount of 69% of the fresh water is frozen in ice caps located on Antarctica and Greenland, so only 30% of the 2.5% of fresh water is available for consumption. Fresh water is an exceptionally important resource, since life on Earth is ultimately dependent on it. Water transports nutrients and chemicals within the biosphere to all forms of life, sustain both plants and animals, and molds the surface of the Earth with transportation and deposition of materials.

Rapidly polluting our present water sources with contaminants and industrial wastes can be really harmful for our environment as well as for our own health. Water is very important for human sustenance, almost one-fifth of the world’s population live in areas of physical water scarcity, and almost one quarter of the world’s population live in a developing country that lacks the necessary infrastructure to use water from available rivers and aquifers. We need water for our day to day activities and it is impossible to imagine life without water. Water scarcity is an increasing problem due to many foreseen issues in the future, including population growth, increased urbanization, higher standards of living, and climate change. Hence water sources can easily get polluted and degrade our environment.

Urban Development:

Yet another major cause of environmental degradation is the urban development. Development is one of the primary causes of environmental degradation. Population is increasing day by day and so is the need for land for homes, water, farms and other resources. Due to reckless usage of natural resources and burning of fossil fuels, there has been a huge amount of pollution that led to considerable degradation of our environment in past few years.

Environmental degradation is one of most urgent of environmental issues. Depending upon the damage, some environments may never recover. There is a serious threat that plants and animals that inhabited these places will be lost forever and as a matter of fact there are few already extinct. It is a high time to move towards sustainable development before it gets too late. In order to reduce any future impacts, city planners, industry, and resource managers must consider the long term effects of development on the environment. With sound planning, future environmental degradation can be prevented.

Deforestation and Soil Degradation:

Deforestation due to modernization and cutting of more and more trees for wood and building activities is leading to deforestation which is also causing degradation to our environment. Death and disease can result from the localized flooding caused by deforestation. Loss of sustainable logging potential and of erosion prevention, watershed stability and carbon sequestration provided by forests are among the productivity impacts of deforestation. Soil degradation is yet another major threat. Depleted soils increase the risks of malnutrition for farmers. Productivity losses on tropical soils are estimated to be in the range of 0.5-1.5 per cent of GNP, while secondary productivity losses are due to siltation of reservoirs, transportation channels and other hydrologic investments.

Atmospheric changes:

 Atmospheric changes also affect our environment. A lot of natural activities such as lava eruption can also lead to release of lot of ash and smoke in atmosphere that can harm our environment and also lead to acid rain and skin diseases among humans. Ozone depletion is responsible for perhaps 300,000 additional cases of skin cancer a year and 1.7 million cases of cataracts. Global warming may lead to increase in the risk of climatic natural disasters. Productivity impacts may include sea-rise damage to coastal investments, regional changes in agricultural productivity and disruption of the marine food chain.

Population Growth:

Population growth is yet another major factor for environmental degradation. An increased population means increased withdrawals from the water supply for domestic, agricultural, and industrial uses. Increased population means increased demand for fresh water for every purpose. The largest of these being agriculture, believed to be the major non-climate driver of environmental change and water deterioration. Population is growing day by day and resources of water are limited and growing population is also a major factor of poverty. Since poor people cannot afford most of the resources therefore they go on depleting natural resources recklessly. For example slums near rivers use water for every purpose and also pollute it by washing their clothes these on the banks as well as bathing there. Hence these all factors add up for a major environmental degradation.

Acid Rain:

Another major reason leading to environmental degradation is the acid rain. Acid rain is really harmful for our environment, monuments, buildings, plants and animals as well as humans. The main cause of the acid rain is the smoke rising from industries and smoke released from burning of fossil fuels. Acid rain occurs when sulfur dioxide in smoke from emissions combines with moisture present in the air which further leads to cloud formation. A chemical reaction creates this acid precipitation. Acid rain can acidify and pollute lakes and streams. It causes similar effects to the soil. If the amount of acid rain falls exceeds a certain level in a given environment, it can acidify the water or soil to a point where no life can be sustained. Plants die off. The animals that depend upon them disappear. And water that human drinks will no longer be fit for drinking purpose. Also acid rains can destroy various monuments and can also infest foundation of buildings.


Environmental degradation is a serious threat and should not be taken lightly. The impact of environmental disasters can be really devastating on the social, economic, and environmental systems of a country or region as well as the global ecosystem. It is something that everyone has to take care of. Environmental disasters do not recognize man-made borders and can take place at any part of the world, and threaten the legacy left to future generations of a clean and supportive environment. It is very important to realize the relevance of environment protection now before it is too late. Because of the interdependency of earth ecosystems international co-operation is paramount to prevent.

There are a number of reasons that ecosystems degrade over time which can be due to human activities as well as due to some other natural reasons also. While it may not always be the fault of humans, humans still need to recognize the extent to which they rely on the resources that the natural world provides. Minimizing on the environment depleting practices will lead to a safer and happier future. In this sense, environmental responsibility and stewardship are very much a matter of self-preservation, and are an integral part of healthy resource management practices.

It is very important to adopt environment friendly techniques of development that doesn’t affect our environment and at the same time it is also very important to be prepared for disaster. When disaster strikes it is very important to respond to relieve quickly and effectively the effects of environmental disasters. Thus, Governments, International organizations and communities must work together at all levels to lessen the risks associated with environmental degradation and its contributing factors, such as climate change, and ensure that vulnerable people are prepared to survive and adapt. At the same time, companies, organizations and individuals must also ensure that their work is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Growth is very important but at the same time it is also important that the growth should be sustainable and should not harm our environment. 

Articles on Education
  Page Views: 1087 | Updated On: 18-Jul-2013