Disappearing rainforests require global action
Digamber Eslampure | Staff Columnist
Forests around the world are rapidly disappearing. The Latin American and Caribbean regions collectively account for more than half of the forests in the world. Deforestation in South America has recently increased drastically. There are several reasons for this plight.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 130,000 square kilometers of world forests are lost every year.
According to the World Bank, deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of global green house gas emissions that contribute to global warming. In addition, forests provide habitats to about two-thirds of all species on Earth, and deforestation of closed tropical rainforests could account for biodiversity loss of as many as 100 species a day.
The major causes for deforestation are conversion to agriculture land, unsound land management practices, unsustainable harvesting of timber and construction of reservoirs and dams. Most forest land is replaced by ranches.
Last year, the U.N. General Assembly designated 2011 as the international year of forest, to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. “Forest for the People” was the main theme of the year.
According to the Brazilian Space Research Institute, the latest satellite images show a sharp increase in deforestation across the Amazon forest.
Does this matter to us and if so, why? Yes, it’s important to us because the Amazon is the largest surviving rainforest on the planet. Moreover, it provides roughly 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. For that reason it is also called the “Lungs of the Earth.”
It matters not only because it provides oxygen, but it is also home to more than 10 million species of plants, animals and insects. It is also home to indigenous tribal people who are still not connected to the rest of the world. The Amazon is characterized by great biodiversity and it is a source for a variety of medicinal ingredients.
Rainforests now cover only 6 percent of the Earth’s surface, but they used to make up 14 percent of the Earth’s surface. Experts estimate that the remaining rainforest could be destroyed in less than 40 years if we continue deforestation at the same pace.
On the other hand, the Chaco forest in South America is one of the most rapidly disappearing forests in the world. The Chaco forest is different in the sense that it has hostile temperatures, which have led some to call it “Green Hell.”
About 10 percent of the Chaco forest has been destroyed in the past five years in Paraguay. According to Guyra –a Paraguayan non-profit organization that protects biodiversity of the country – about 1.2 million acres of the Chaco have been destroyed in just the last two years.
Foreigners are buying land in the Chaco forest for ranches and cattle farms. Land prices across this region have gone up 300 percent because multinational companies are buying vast tracts they will use to raise cattle, which will be exported worldwide.
Deforestation of the Chaco forest in Paraguay poses a great threat to the survival of the Ayoreo Indians, the last un-contacted tribe outside the Amazon.
Allowing continued deforestation and degradation of the forests in this region affects more than the countries in that region: it affects the rest of the world, too. In addition, we are putting our lives at risk. We are losing the greatest biological treasures of the Earth before we completely know their real value.
Yet most South American countries don’t have strict environmental policies. Their laws are either ineffective or improperly implemented, which results in huge deforestation. Most of these countries simply arrest the people and collect very little in fines. They rarely, if ever, initiate a lawsuit against the accused.
There have been many international conventions held in the last two decades, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement. Yet the deforestation and degradation of forests remains at alarming levels.
Simply attending environmental conventions and framing rules is not enough. We need to implement rules and regulations effectively. Furthermore, we must create awareness among communities and individuals.
If we want to preserve these vast, richly diverse forests for future generations, we must immediately start protecting the Amazon and Chaco from further degradation.