The Disaster of Deforestation

Mar - Apr 2003

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Imagining Earth without forests is a horrifying picture to conceive. As its knowledge base has expanded and deepened, mankind has realised that forests are extremely important to the survival of humans and other life forms on earth. Yet deforestation continues unabated in different parts of the world. According to the World Resource Institute based at Washington DC (U.S.A.), the rates of rainforest destruction are 2.4 acre per second, 149 acres per minute, 214000 acres per day and 78 million acres per year. Literature survey and research by Stephen Hui reveals that British Columbia has about 40% of its original forests remaining, while Europe has less than half; the United States have approximately 1-2% of their original forest cover; more than 80% of the planet's natural forests have already been destroyed.

1. This article examines the importance of forests, the effects of deforestation on health and environment and an effective remedy to replenish the flora already lost. Plants and animals, along with micro-organisms, comprise life on Earth. Herbivorous animals sustain their life by consuming plants. Carnivorous animals and birds kill herbivorous animals for food; therefore indirectly they also depend on plants. Sea creatures eat aquatic plants and humans consume crop plants. A large variety of birds feed on seeds. There would rarely be any animal or bird who do not use plants directly or indirectly to satisfy their food requirements. It is thus not surprising that tropical forests are the home to 70% of the world's plants and animals (more than 13 million distinct species) 30% of all bird species and 90% of invertebrates.

2. Loss of forests has led to the extinction of thousands of species, estimated to be 50000 species annually. Besides being the source for food, plants help us in a number of other ways. Animals, including humans, inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide; plants take up carbon dioxide and in return they release oxygen - this exchange is very important. Forests in particular act as a huge carbon dioxide sink. If there were not enough trees to absorb carbon dioxide, its accumulation would make the environment poisonous. Over the last 150 years, the amount of carbon dioxide has increased by about 25%.

3. Carbon-dioxide also contributes to global warming. The World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development believes about 25 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions are a consequence of deforestation and forest fires.

4. The predicted rise in the temperature over the next century is 0.3oC per decade.

5 Deforestation has other perils too, writes Stephen Hui:
    Rising sea levels brought on by global warming have the potential to threaten the locations of many major cities, much fertile agricultural land, the purity of freshwater supplies and the survival of some nations. The clearing of forestland results in increased erosion and landslides. Soil from areas of reduced forest cover can fill reservoirs created by dams. Thus a dam's ability and future capacity to generate hydroelectricity and provide irrigation would be significantly reduced. Deforestation has had a negative impact on rainfall, resulting in droughts and water shortage. According to the newsmagazine Outlook, Indian cities are beginning to resemble deserts.

6 The statistical figures cited by it are evidently frightening. Of Delhi's 12 million population, about 30% get less than 25 litres of water per person per day; water demand in Mumbai is 3200 million per day whereas the supply is 2700 million per day; the supply deficit in Delhi is 700 million litres, in Bangalore is 300 million litres and in Chennai is 200 million litres6.Water shortage is being experienced throughout the world, including U.S.A., Canada and Africa. Because of an exponential growth in population, the need to build roads, houses and factories has stripped off a vast amount of land from forests.

To compensate for the loss of land, attempts are often made to make the unused infertile land fertile and uneven land even for agricultural purposes. Yet they do not replace the land that is lost. Deforestation is also caused because of extra land required for agriculture, and livestock; and the demand for wood is quite high for construction and other business purposes. It is a matter of deep concern that trees are not planted at the rate at which they are chopped off. This is a double jeopardy. Now that there are less number of trees, the price of wood is quite high because of more demand and short supply.

The decaying of leaves also enhances land's fertility. A decrease in the number of plants means a decrease in the number of leaves, thus a decrease in land fertility. It also means less food availability for animals, birds, thus creating a serious food crisis. The loss of forests also causes desertification. The roots of trees dig deep into the ground, penetrating several layers. They hold together these layers and prevent the formation of dust and thus maintain the topsoil intact. In the absence of trees, dust is formed and heavy rainfall and high sunlight damage the topsoil in clearings of the tropical rainforests. In this way with every rainfall, the availability of fertile land decreases.

The same effect is caused with heavy winds and storms. Therefore deforested areas appear desert-like. In such circumstances, the forest will take much longer to regenerate itself and the land will not be suitable for agricultural use for quite some time. Forests also provide us with a wide range of industrial wood products that we use in daily life; for example lumber, panels, posts, poles, pulp, and paper. In addition to wood products, tropical forests give us a wide range of non-timber forest products, such as fibres, resins, latexes, fruits, and traditional medicines.

We often make suicidal blunders in judging the value of things; therefore money is preferred over things on which our existence rests. Research on the impact of deforestation leads to only one conclusion: cutting down trees means turning off our life support machine. Trees should be treated as our life partners and attempts should be made to ensure their abundance. If cutting down trees is absolutely essential then it is equally important that the same numbers of trees are planted. Unfortunately this is not happening on a scale it should.

The benefits obtained by cutting trees pale into insignificance compared to the disadvantages incurred. The only solution to this crisis is to create an awareness and enthusiasm in the people to plant more and more trees. Planting trees is one of the programmes run by Gayatri Mission Shantikunj Sansthan, Haridwar in several districts of India. The organisation vigorously conducts the program to make people aware of the acuteness of the problem and inspires them to plant more and more trees.

References:

1. Hui, Stephen. (1997, November 12). Deforestation: Humankind and the Global Ecological Crisis.
2. Anon. (1996). World Resources: A Guide to the Global Environment 1996-97, Oxford University Press, p.365.
3. Woodall, George (1992). The Role of Forests in Climate Change, in Managing the World's Forests: Looking for Balance Between Conservation and Development edited by Narendra P. Sharma, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Iowa, pp.75-91.
4. Ciesla, William M., 1995; Climate change, forests and forest management: an overview, FAO Forestry Paper 126, Forest Resources Division, FAO, Rome, Italy.
5. World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development, 1998; Our Forests . . . Our Future, March report, WCFSD Secretariat, Winnipeg; p.126. 6. Kalshian, Rakesh (2002). Water: Midsummer Nightmare, Outlook, Vol. XLII, No. 21, pp. 58-61

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