Together, India and its neighbouring countries have lost 90 per cent of their original natural vegetation under their four common ‘biodiversity hotspots,’ with the largest one – the Indo-Burma hotspot – being the worst hit, reporting a loss of nearly 95 per cent of natural vegetation from an originally estimated area of 2.3 million square kilometres.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) highlighted the biodiversity loss data in its latest annual statistical compendium on the state of India’s environment, which was released on World Environment Day. The CSE research noted that the four biodiversity hotspots have been reduced to less than 10% of their original extent and that 25 plant species have become extinct in these hotspots, which include India and its neighbours in South Asia and South-East Asia.
Apart from the Indo-Burma hotspot, which includes entire north-eastern India (except Assam), the Andaman group of islands, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and southern China, the other three hotspots in the country are Himalaya (Indian Himalayan region and areas falling in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar), Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, and Sundaland (Nicobar group of Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Philippines).
The original natural vegetation remains only in 118,653 square kilometres of the total 2,373,057 square kilometres of the Indo-Burma hotspot; 100,571 square kilometres of the total 1,501,063 square kilometres of the Sundaland hotspot; 185,427 square kilometres of the total 741,706 square kilometres of the Himalayas hotspot; and 43,611 square kilometres of the total 189,611 square kilometres of the Western Ghats.
The term “biodiversity hotspot” refers to a location that is distinguished by both high levels of plant endemism and significant habitat loss. There are 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Their combined areas cover 2.3 per cent of the Earth’s land surface. In 1999, a quantitative criterion for identifying biodiversity hotspots and determining their extent/areas was introduced.
According to the Botanical Survey of India, “each hotspot confronts serious challenges and has already lost at least 70% of its original natural vegetation.” It was highlighted that the 35 biodiversity hotspots are home to more than half of the world’s plant species and 42 per cent of all terrestrial vertebrate species. The CSE report used and collated publicly available data from India’s “ecosystem accounting” and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) report on endangered species. It stated that 12 per cent of the 1,212 animal species monitored by the IUCN under its Red List monitors in India are endangered.
The research notes that the number of forest fire alarms has increased significantly in 16 states, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand. It stated, “India has seen a dramatic increase in forest fires since the beginning of 2021.” As of May 1, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) had recorded 433,581 fire alarms. This is a significant increase, despite the fact that the country’s official forest fire season runs from February to June.”