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State of the World's Forests 1999

This is a belated posting about the bi-annual "State of the World’s Forests 1999" (SOFO) report, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

RIC comments: During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the FAO was the driving force behind the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP), a major international initiative which aspired to be the saviour of the world’s tropical forests. Based on the assumption that deforestation was caused by poverty, it aimed at saving forests by creating wealth. Its way of creating wealth was to promote industrial logging of tropical forests. Not surprisingly, green groups ridiculed the notion that forests could be saved by cutting them down and the TFAP was ultimately abandoned as a failure. Given the FAO’s background, its findings are to be treated with extreme caution. Nevertheless, this is a valuable source of information about the state of the world’s forests.

State of the World's Forests 1999

ROME, Italy, March 4, 1999 (ENS) - A forested area about one-quarter the size of Italy is lost throughout the world each year, according to the just released edition of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization's (FAO) biannual review State of the World's Forests 1999. The 11million hectares (42,460 square miles) of forest lands lost fall to insect pests and diseases, fire, overharvesting of industrial wood and fuelwood, poor harvesting practices, overgrazing and air pollution, according to the report. Between 1990 and 1995, the total area of forests decreased by more than 56 million hectares (216,000 square miles), an area roughly twice the size of Italy.

While developed countries actually saw a net increase of almost nine million hectares (35,000 square miles) of forested lands, developing countries posted a loss of over 65 million hectares (251,000 square miles).

Now countries are taking action to limit forest losses, the State of the World's Forests 1999 report says. The findings of State of the World's Forests (SOFO 1999) are being discussed by heads of forest services, senior government officals, representatives of international organizations and non-governmental groups participating at the 14th Session of FAO's Committee on Forestry in Rome all this week.

"SOFO will help facilitate informed discussion and decision-making," according to M. Hosny El-Lakany, assistant director-general of FAO's Forestry Department. The Committee on Forestry meets every two years to discuss emerging forestry issues, seek solutions and advise on appropriate action.

Extraordinary events in 1997 and 1998 caused the period to be one of the bleakest for the world's forests. New insect pest and disease outbreaks were reported in many regions of the world, the United States and Canada were hit by crippling ice storms, and dramatic wildfires affected forests everywhere.

"Nearly all types of forest burned in 1997-1998, even some tropical rain forests which had not burned in recent memory," according to the report.  

Unusually large fires in Indonesia, the Amazon and Mexico increased public awareness of these national disasters. Droughts associated with the El Niņo were largely to blame, turning moist forests into tinder-boxes of forest vegetation, but, according to SOFO, many of these great fires were "predominantly man-made."

These events have spurred the international community to take more active measures to halt the spread of deforestation. Many countries have recently introduced new logging regulations, adopted more enlightened management practices, and improved recycling and manufacturing efficiencies in wood processing, for example.

Countries are increasingly designating large tracts of forest as strict conservation areas. The Philippines, for example, recently banned all logging in old-growth and virgin forests and placed these forests under a national protected area system. In China, a similar ban on timber harvesting in natural forests was imposed in July 1998. In Suriname, 1.5 million hectares (5,790 square miles) of natural forest, one-tenth of the country's total land area, was set aside as a wilderness reserve in 1998.

Brazil, Cambodia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States, among others, have also recently either banned or severely restricted timber harvesting in primary forests, the FAO State of the Forests report found. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf has convened a Ministerial Meeting on sustainability issues in forestry, both national and international perspectives, for March 8 and 9 at FAO headquarters here. Topics on the agenda include international agreements to support sustainable forest develoment and global    action to address forest fires.

The ministers will also consider the observations and recommendations of the 14th session of COFO on the proposed FAO Strategic Framework for the years 2000 to 2015.

"State of the World's Forests 1999" is available from  FAO Sales and Marketing Group, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy, or Email: Publications-sales@FAO.Org

Source: Environment News Service (ENS) 1999.


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