Slash and burn!


In spite of a hundred million people living in Asia below the poverty line, environmental degradation continues to pose alarming challenge in achieving the millennium development goal. The formidable rate of deforestation, atmospheric pollution, degradation of coastal eco-system, depletion of fresh water resources is a result of combination of technological advancement and socio-economic activities like urbanization, transportation, poverty. In this wreckage, the worst threat to mankind is deforestation.

The tropical forests, spanning on either sides of equator, although, are covering only about 7 percent of the Earth’s land, yet, they harbour about half of all species on Earth. These species have formed their micro-habitats so well in these areas that any devastation, however, small that may be can cause serious repercussions causing their extinctions. The biodiversity is facing a grave threat. Food and agricultural Organisation (FAO) has found out that these forests are slashed by about 15 million hectares per year. So why are these areas of rich diversity being cleared off? Let us examine the cause for the same.

Agriculture, population explosion and poverty happen to be both agents and victims of environmental squalor. For agriculture to crop up, many forests are slashed-and-burned, the nutrient reservoir is lost, and flooding and erosion rates become high, such that the recovery of the forest land becomes unfeasible. Also, the burning of these forests by farmers makes up 20 percent of our world’s greenhouse gas emissions further aiding the environmental pollution.

As far as population is concerned, to cite an example, the Sub-Saharan Africans are expected to double in about 10 years. It is not surprising that more and more forests will be cleared off. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that these forests are crucial for obtaining natural resources which are used to feed as many as ten billion population of the world. Thus, the global markets consume rainforest products like timber, spices, natural oils, fruit, nuts, fibre and medicines, by plundering and looting the natural wealth of the forest at a far much faster rate with which it can replenish. This further adds to the degradation.

Regarding poverty, the rural people need to sometimes overuse the limited resources, in their quest for food security. The resulting environmental degradation imposes further constraints on their livelihood. All of this leads to a vicious circle as they are often forced to make trade-offs between instant household requirements and environmental sustainability.

Due to all these causes and conditions, the impact is that the destruction of forests is expediting at a much faster rate at which they can be restored. Deforestation follows a fishbone pattern; initially the clearings are arrayed along the edges of the road, eventually motley of remnants and cleared areas become visible. Even as of now, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is the key legislation governing environment management. Aid agencies and governments are now working in collaboration to find out how to balance the needs of indigenous peoples with expanding rural populations and economic development, and whether establishing large, pristine, uninhabited protected forest areas should be the prime priority of conservation efforts in tropical forests.

Deforestation is quite a ‘downward spiral’ as it is like a vicious circle, having one aspect which may be the cause, related to another aspect which may be the effect, yet, the issue can be seen as a local issue with global consequences. Therefore, the national and international governments and NGOs should take up the cause to combat the issue before it is too late.

It is rightly said, “Not until the last tree has been cut and the last drop of water poisoned, will man realise he cannot eat money?”

Sumedha Sobti

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