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Depletion of Natural Resources

In this chapter, we will learn:

• The causes of depletion of resources – overuse/irrational use, non-equitable distribution of
resources, technological and industrial development and population growth.

• The need for curbing human activities that leads to depletion of resources.

Over a period of time, many of our natural resources are being depleted. Many activities of human society
are responsible for this degradation of the environment. Agricultural practises such as indiscriminate use of
fertilizers and pesticides contaminate the soil. Urbanisation, overpopulation, increase in use of carbon
monoxide producing automobiles, deforestation, deterioration of water resources are all factors contributing
to this depletion.
Depletion of natural resources refers to the exhaustion of raw materials within a region. Our resources are
getting depleted at a faster rate than they are produced or renewed by nature. Thus even renewable
resources need to be used in sustainable ways, otherwise they will run out.

Human activity and depletion of resources

Almost all activities of human society have degraded the environment.
Use of chemical fertilizers and Pesticides
The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides can help protect and increase the yield of crops in the short
run. In the long run however these can be harmful to the environment in the following ways:

• Unintended destruction of soil organisms: Promoting beneficial soil organisms such as earthworms
and micro organisms such as symbiotic bacteria is a part of soil conservation. These organisms help
in the decay of dead organic matter, fix nitrogen and increase the availability of more water, minerals
and organic nutrients to the plant. The use of pesticides and insecticides often has the unintended
consequence of killing the organisms or impairing their functioning. This would result in degrading
the quality of soil.

• Contamination of water in the soil: Many chemicals enter the soil system and may react chemically
to produce other derivatives that persist in the soil. When water moves downward into the soil it may
cause translocation of the chemicals by leaching. Leached substances often end up in the
groundwater zone and contaminate the water.

• Choking of aquatic ecosystem: Leached chemicals often travel by groundwater flow into water
bodies like rivers, lakes, and oceans. Some time waste nitrates from chemical fertilizers are washed
out to arable lands and water bodies. The nitrates affect the water quality of these lowland lakes and
rivers and create health hazards. If the phosphate and nitration concentration exceeds one part and
thirty parts per million parts of water respectively, it results in eutrophication (increase in chemical
nutrients in an ecosystem). This can ruin the aquatic ecosystem.

Figure-1.A mine
We have studied the adverse effects of mining in the previous
chapter. Mining activities are carried out for extracting mineral
resources. They affect the local landscape due to large scale 405419_7b707ae933_o.jpg
digging up process.
Mining may result in many negative effects such as water
contamination, subsidence of land, air pollution and desertification. Desertification occurs when activities,
such as mining cause a loss of moisture in the soil. An example of this is Goa, where manganese is found on
the ground surface or a few meters below. This surface soil is stripped off for extracting the minerals and this
has left a desert-like landscape behind.
Industry consists of manufacturing goods or providing services. Industrialisation requires natural resources
such as minerals, agricultural products and forest products as raw material. It also uses natural resources
such as fossil fuels for providing energy in the process of manufacturing. Water is also used in many
industrial processes. This causes natural resources to be depleted. Industry also uses land for factories,
offices, road and housing.
Industrialisation also leads to generation of waste and industrial pollution. All of this has an impact on the
Energy generation
Figure-2.Energy generation
Electricity generation is the process of converting non-electrical
energy to electricity. Today we rely mainly on coal, nuclear, natural
gas and hydroelectric sources to generate electricity. We also use
conventional sources of energy like coal, petroleum and natural gas
for running our factories, various equipments and automobiles. All of
these are exhaustible.

Big dams are also not environmentally viable. They submerge the agricultural lands. They also displace
people. In India the estimates of displaced people range between 14 and 40 million. Dams prevent rivers
from flowing in their course. This affects the water table, preventing the river water from flowing into
underground areas. A dam blocks the sediments and nutrients, blocks migration of fish, alters the river
temperature and chemistry and upsets the natural balance. Hence we need to look at alternative sources of
energy such as solar energy, biomass, tidal harnesses, wind generators and geothermal sources.
Figure-3.An urban landscape
Urbanisation is defined as the growth of population in urban areas.
According to the United Nations 3 per cent of the world’s population
lived in urban areas. In 2000, about 47 per cent of the world’s content/uploads/2008/06/mumbai.jpg
population lived in urban areas. This clearly shows the trend towards
Development means a shift from an agrarian based economy to more
industrial and service based economies. This naturally leads to urbanisation. People migrate to towns and
cities for better employment opportunities and life-style. Urbanisation creates social, economic and
environmental problems. Some of the problems associated with urbanisation are:
1. Due to urbanisation, agricultural land, wetlands are taken to meet the urban demands. Forests are
also cut to use as land for cultivation. All of this puts pressure on habitats of wildlife and domestic
2. Defacement of land, due to demand for accommodation in cities. Cities are concrete jungles with
less attention paid to green cover. Trees are often felled down for road widening and other
infrastructure development projects.
3. Exploitation of ground and surface water resources. Cities use water but unlike forests, they do not
have mechanisms to replenish the ground water. Due to construction of roads and pavements and
cemented areas, the rain water runs off and is not absorbed in the soil.
4. Overcrowding, due to more employment opportunities in the city. Also, many cities have reached a
saturation point. High rise buildings are built to accommodate more people in the same land.
5. Generation of wastes increases with an increase in population. Also, the amount of waste is directly
proportional to the prosperity of people.
6. Air pollution is caused due to use of fossil fuels in vehicles and industries operating in the city


During the two decades of 1971-91, India’s urban population has doubled from 109 million to 218 million and
is estimated to reach 300 million by 2000 AD.

Increased use of automobiles

Most of our automobiles are run on petroleum. Over
exploitation of petrol is causing its depletion. Vehicles are Figure-4.Automobiles
being s added in the city to meet the transportation needs of
the population. Public transport such as buses, autos and taxis,
personal vehicles such as cars and bikes and industrial
vehicles such as trucks and tankers are increasing.
Unless we switch to renewable sources of energy to run the
vehicles, there will be an energy crisis in the near future.
Deforestation is carried out to make land available for cultivation,
pasture lands for livestock, getting timber, building dams and
mining. It is estimated that about 90 acres of forest land is ges/deforestation_bolivia.jpg
deforested daily.
Growing indsutrialisation and urbanisation has also put pressure
on forests. Efforts to re grow forests are on but afforestation
rates are much lesser than the rate of deforestation. This deforestation impacts the environment in many

Deterioration of water resources

We studied the hydrological cycle and how deforestation affects it as the rain water is not absorbed as much
and much of the water runs off. Groundwater and surface water also gets affected due to excessive use and
poor water management in urban areas. Building of dams prevents rivers from flowing their natural course
and replenishing underground water. As a result of all this the rain water does not percolate into aquifers but
flows into the seas and oceans. The available groundwater is being extracted at rates faster than nature can
replenish it.
Fresh water is also available from the ice of glaciers and peaks that melts and flows as streams and rivers.
However, global warming is melting these peaks faster and flooding low lying areas. Much of this water runs
off into the seas and oceans and cannot be used.

Causes of depletion of Resources

The United Nations reports states that the world population is
currently growing by approximately 72 million people per year.
Estimates state that by 2050 the world’s population could be as science/09/25/overpopulation.overview/
much as 11 billion people. The majority of this population growth
will take place in developing countries. This rising population would
increase the demand for food, water, clothing, and shelter. With the
increasing urbanization there would also be an increase in the use
of consumer goods. To meet this demand we will utilise natural resources such as minerals, forests, fossil
fuels, etc. Many of these resources are limited or non-renewable such as land, fossil fuels, minerals etc.
Even renewable resources such as forests are under severe pressure and it may not be possible to renew
them at the same rates at which they are being used up.

Thus overpopulation refers to a condition where the carrying capacity of a habitat is lesser that the actual
numbers of an organism. To fulfil the food requirements of a large population, more land has to be brought
under cultivation. Forests have been destroyed in the past to be used as farming land. To increase the crop
yield, fertilisers and pesticides are used extensively. However, in the long run these pollute the environment
and reduce the fertility of the soil and eventually affect the crop yield. For meeting water requirement for
drinking and irrigation, dams have to be built. Dams disturb the environment. Poor management of ground
water has also led to its depletion.
Overpopulation, as discussed above, has many adverse effects:
1. Large-scale consumption of resources such as fossil fuel, minerals etc.
2. High consumption of fertilizers and fossil fuel leads to pollution of air, water and soil.
3. Human activity such as mining, destroying forests, consuming resources upsets the ecological
balance in nature
4. A lot of human activities also leads to depletion of the ozone layer

Excessive or Irrational use

The rise in human population along with growing urbanisation and economic growth are leading to an
overuse of resources. Increase in per capita economic growth is generally associated with a growth in the
resource use. There is a limited capacity of the planet to meet the increasing demand for resources and to
absorb the emissions and waste resulting from their use. In several cases it has been seen that the existing
demand exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment.

There is a shortage of several resources due to overuse. Land is being developed, forests are cut to meet
the need for agricultural land and there is a loss of wildlife habitat. Soil is a resource that is getting degraded
due to overuse, pollution and erosion. Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, take millions of years to form.
But they are being used at a faster rate, leading to an energy crisis.

Excessive use of resources also refers to higher standard of living and the consumer culture that is prevalent
in most developed countries as well as in urban areas in the developing countries. All this adds up to more
housing, food, mobility, washing machines, refrigerators, personal computers, or television sets. Producing
all this utilises our natural resources. Much of this also generates waste. If we continue to consume at
existing rates, we will soon be in a crisis where the demand for natural resources will far exceed the supply.

Did You Know?

The 1998 Human Development Report from the United Nations stated that globally, the 20% of the world's
people in
the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures - the poorest 20% a
minuscule 1.3%.

Non-Equitable distribution of Resources

Natural resources are not distributing in a uniform way. At one place a particular resource may be in excess
and in other places they may be scarcely available. In India, coal reserves are found in Jharkhand and
Orissa but there are no known reserves in Punjab and Haryana. Rajasthan faces and acute shortage of
water. Crude oil is found at very few sites in India.
Oil is present in abundance in the Middle East but not so much in other parts of the world. This leads to
exploiting the available resource to the maximum to create economic opportunities for the region. By building
trade around the available resources, other industries and services could be built over time. However, this
exploitation of resources comes at a cost to the environment.
Non-equitable distribution of resources also can cause conflict amongst states and nations. An example of
this is the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In many parts of the world there are
conflicts due to water. The Tigris- Euphrates river is an example. Iran, Iraq and Syria each present a valid
claim over the waters but the total demand exceeds the supply.

Technological and industrial development

Technological and industrial development gives us an opportunity to Figure-7.An Industrial Area
use our natural resources in many new ways. Industrialisation led to
mass production, which means that we can produce more and more
goods in a shorter period of time. However, this has rapidly increased nergy_industry_img.jpg
the usage of minerals, fuels such as coal, petrol and packaging
material such as paper and wood. The quantity of metals used in the
20th century alone exceeds the quantity consumed during the entire
history of mankind.
Technological development can help us to build dams, construct roads, railways, metros and build airplanes.
All of these uses up natural resources and do harm the environment in many ways. Construction of roads
and metros require a lot of the trees to be chopped off. The use of aviation fuel causes air pollution. Dams
also cause ecological imbalance. The Aswan dam constructed on the river Nile in Egypt is an example of
how the dam had an opposite effect than what was expected. The dam constructed in 1967 was expected to
prevent annual flooding, provide water for irrigation and generate electricity: But it had the following effects:
1. Loss of soil fertility due to the absence of floods as the silt was not carried to the fields.
2. Fertiliser factories had to be set up to replenish the soil with fertilisers. These consumed most of the
3. As the nutrients in the river decreased, the fish decreased.
4. The change in the groundwater level due to dam construction led to high concentration of salts in the
water table. After the construction, the continuous high level of the water table led to soil salination of
previously arable land. The canals that were dug for irrigation had salt in them, so the soil had to be

Points to Remember:

• Many human activities degrade the environment. These include, use of fertilisers and pesticides,
deforestation, mining, energy generation, industrialisation, urbanisation, increased use of automobiles
and deterioration of water resources.
• Causes of depletion of natural resources include overuse or irrational use, overpopulation, non-equitable
distribution of resources and technological and industrial development.
• Excessive or irrational use of resources depletes them, pollutes the environment and adds to waste
• Growing population puts added pressure on natural resources as there is an increase in demand for
food, clothing and shelter.
• Non Equitable Distribution of resources means that some resources are available in plenty in some parts
of the world and scarce in others. Areas where the resources are in plenty try and exploit them to the
fullest and create economic opportunities around those resources.

• Technological and industrial development requires the use of minerals, fuels and other natural resources,
which leads to their rapid depletion.

A. Fill up the blanks:
1. ………………… consists of manufacturing goods or providing services.
2. a condition where the carrying capacity of the environment or habitat is lesser than the
actual number of organisms.
3. Most of our automobiles run on...........
4. .......... are destroyed to be used as farming land.
5. Increase of chemical nutrients in an ecosystem is called...........

B. True or False:
1. Destruction of earthworms and other soil organisms is beneficial to the soil. ( )

2. Unless we switch to renewable sources of energy there might be an energy crisis in the future. (
3. We use conventional sources of energy such as coal, natural gas and petroleum in our factories. (
4. Urbanisation causes problems such as increased waste generation, air pollution and overuse of
groundwater without replenishing it. ( )
5. Dams prevent rivers from flowing on their natural course and replenishing underground water. (

C. Answer the following questions:

1. What is meant by depletion of resources?
2. How are natural resources depleted?
3. Which human activities lead to depletion of resources?
4. What is meant by overuse and irrational use of resources?
5. Explain how overpopulation has adverse effects on the environment.
6. How does urbanization lead to depletion of natural resources?
7. Give two examples of overuse of resources.
8. How will future generations be affected by depletion of natural resources?
9. What are the advantages and disadvantages of technological development in a country?
10. How can we say that natural resources have non-equitable distribution?

• Visit the site and take the quiz to understand your ecological footprint or
how environmentally friendly you are.
• Discuss and debate in your class the causes and consequences of cutting down trees, air pollution
and using fossil fuels