Root Causes of Deforestation

Almost one-third of the earth’s land is covered with forest. They play an important role in sustaining life. They house over 60% of the world’s biodiversity and provide human beings with many products such as food, medicine, fuel, lumber, paper etc. Aside from the numerous products that can be acquired from the forests, they also play very important ecological roles by stopping erosion, protecting the watershed, controlling stream and river flows, regulating atmospheric conditions, and preventing flooding and landslides.

But because of several reasons, this valuable ecosystem is rapidly disappearing in various parts of the world. Deforestation rates have increased since the 1980s. To date, according to the estimate given by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a group responsible for the forests, deforestation rates have accelerated during the 1990s translating to 10.14 million hectares of denuded forests from 1990-2000 and to 10.4 million hectares in the period of 2000-2005.

Deforestation and forest degradation occur in response to policy, market and institutional signals. It is the result of the interaction of many environmental, economic, social, cultural and political conditions in any given region.

There are two main causes of deforestation. The primary and most common reasons for deforestation are known as the direct causes. Logging, overpopulation, urbanization, dam construction etc are under direct causes. The other main cause of deforestation is known as natural causes since they are brought by the Mother Nature.

Rapid population growth has resulted to the conversion of forest areas to non-forest lands for settlement and farming. Together with this is urbanization and residential area expansion. This takes a significant loss of forest lands both for harvesting forest products as more people need more lumber to build their houses and for developing the greater area their houses, malls, business centers will be built.

An increase in population also means an increase in produce consumption. Thus, rainforests are destroyed and converted to cattle pasture to supply the burgeoning demand for meat. In Central America, almost half of the rainforests have been slashed and burned for cattle farming in order comply with foreign demands. Twenty-five per cent of the Amazon’s forests have also been destroyed for cattle ranches.

Lack of government legislation for land reforms has also cleared the forest especially in developing countries like of the South East Asian nations. People in that region are among the poorest in the world and are desperate for a piece of land. Unequal distribution of resources has led these people to find their way to exploit the forests.

Another reason that denudes the forest is exploitative economic development schemes and the powerlessness of government to safeguard its resources. Poor countries in their attempt to increase their revenues are in a way exploiting their resources like the forests. Timber is exported to reduce the national debt. Countries rich in mineral resources open their doors to multinational mining corporations that clear the forests as they go with their operations. The government especially those belonging in the Third World cannot curb commercial logging and implement a total log ban in exchange to higher foreign exchange rates. Development projects like dams, roads, and airports contracted by the government also cause deforestation.

While most causes of deforestation occur due to human activities, there are uncontrolled causes of deforestation such as forest fires, volcanic eruption, and typhoon.

Forest fires are started by lightning, and strong winds help to spread the flames. Drought in the forest has increased the amount of flammable bush and debris on the forest floor. Forest fires destroy immeasurable amount of valuable timber. They kill not only trees but also other living things.

Meanwhile, volcanic eruption is one of the several natural forces capable of causing damage to forests. The ashes emitted during the eruption coat tree leaves, which then interfere with photosynthesis. Animal population is also devastated. The organisms that survive have to cope with the changed habitat and reduced food supplies.

Last is typhoon. These are violent storms when fierce winds destroy much of the island’s rain forest.

People can only hope that the uncontrollable forces causing deforestation would not do great damage. However, right decisions and good actions must be taken to address the problems brought by the other reasons of deforestation where the cause and the end result is at the hands of the people.

By: Nathalie Fiset

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