The core of land use conflicts is due to the growth of metropolitan areas. In the years since the Second World War Metropolitan areas have grown at a phenomenal rate. Complexes of housing development, highways, shopping centres have spread over the countryside producing “Urban Sprawl”. Hence it could be said that the core of land use conflicts is due to urbanization.
It is said that about ninety per cent of the world’s population lives on only about two per cent of the land surface. However, some eighty per cent of the world’s land is Tundra, rugged mountains, deserts etc., and only eleven per cent has the climate, relatively level terrain and good soil that make it naturally suitable for cultivation.
It is in this eleven per-cent of land surface that human beings find most desirable places to live. Since cities grow around agricultural regions, urbanisation has been at the cost of agricultural land.
The new lands to be developed for agriculture are occupied by natural eco-systems and animal wild life. Therefore, spreading urbanisation has the effect of creating a conflict between preserving natural Eco-systems and sacrificing them to maintain agricultural production. Additionally the acres lost are generally arable, i.e., they can be cultivated with little or no additional irrigation and drainage.
The new agricultural lands on the other hand are generally arid and development of these requires extensive water diversion projects for irrigation or drainage. Projects like construction of dam have adverse effects on the balance of the Eco-system.
Further, the loss of agricultural lands have been compensated for by increasing the productivity of remaining new lands by the increased arable and the limits of increasing remaining new lands by the increased use of fertilisers and pesticides.
Given the limits of potentially arable lands and the limits of increasing productivity, the loss of agriculture land to urban development reduces capacity for food production. With a growing world population and the world food situation becoming more critical, the use of land for urban sprawl becomes a serious moral question.
The increased population also increases energy requirements. More and more sub-urban development interlaced with high speed highways mean that on the average people are driving further and further to jobs, shopping, schools, entertainment and so on.
Increased travel distance results in increased energy consumption. Increasing energy demand creates the need for more nuclear power plant, more coal, more hydroelectric dams and reservoirs, more oil etc. To meet the space requirement for the new power projects, forests are destroyed. An example of this is the Silent Valley Projects. Woods are destroyed even for meeting increased fuel requirement.
This creates a chain reaction. Deforestation results in soil erosion (Surface run off of top layer of soil that is fertile) and affects productivity. Thus increased energy requirement leads basically to land use conflicts by not only reducing the area of land available for agriculture but also reducing productivity of the available land through soil erosion.
Development to meet energy requirements as well as to provide new agricultural land compensating for the land lost in urbanisation 206 Environmental Economics process results in deserts. One way or the other, eighty per cent of the productivity land in the arid and semi-arid area of the globe is believed to be affected by desertation.
Two-thirds of the world’s 180 odd nations are affected by it and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated that the World’s deserts- which now amount to some eight, 1 square million hectares of usable crop land deteriorate every year to the point where they can no longer be farmed economically.
The potential value of the lost production is estimated at 26,000 million dollars a year and even this enormous figure does not describe the total loss. UNEP has estimated that one third of the world’s present arable land may have turned into desert by the end of the century.
The following factors result in expansion of deserts:
(ii) Attempts to increase food production from marginal land in semi-arid areas.
(iii) Irrigation schemes in areas without drainage.
(iv) Over grazing by cattle.
(v) Modem method of agriculture, planting of simple crop instead of traditional and varied cropping cycles, and cutting down or eliminating fallow periods. These factors strip the land of the fertile and exposes it to the risk of erosion.