Swift Action to Save the World's Forests and Woodlands Urged by FAO Expert Task Force

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Swift action to save the world's forests and woodlands urged by FAO expert task force

As the International Year of the Forest (1985) draws to a close, experts have called for swift action to save dying forests and woodlands from the Black Forest of Germany to those in the Amazon jungle to African tropics. The destruction of forests--which cover nearly one third of the earth's total land surface--is occurring at such an alarming rate that permanent ecological damage may occur.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which proclaimed the International Year in an effort to draw attention to environmental dangers for the world's woodlands, has stated "If present rates of deforestation continue, much of the world's tropical forests could be destroyed.'

Every year, more than 27 million acres (11 million hectares) of tropical forests, an area larger than Austria, are lost, the FAO reports. If tropical forests continue to be cleared at currently accelerating rates, at least 556 million acres (225 million hectares) will be destroyed by the year 2000. An estimated 10 to 20 per cent of the earth's plant and animal life will also be obliterated.

In temperate zone forests of the developed world, damage from atmospheric pollution and fire has affected vast tracts of forest land, reducing economic returns and threatening widespread ecological harm. In arid and semi-arid regions--which make up 52 per cent of the land surface of the developing world--overgrazing, the clearance of marginal lands for agriculture and demand for fuelwood are leading to extension of the desert and the destruction of fragile environments.

Nearly 7 million hectares of European forest have been damaged by air pollution. Of that total, about 230,000 hectares are dying or dead. For example, in 1983 and 1984, respectively, affected forests have increased from 34 to 50 per cent in the Federal Republic of Germany and from 14 to 34 per cent in Switzerland.

Tropical deforestation: Tropical forests--which stretch across the Americas, Africa and Asia and constitute 43 per cent of total world forest reserves--are experiencing more difficulties than forests from other zones, FAO indicates.

"The deforestation occurring in the tropics today is one of the great tragedies of our time', says T.N. Khoshoo of the World Resources Institute Task Force, a group of nine experts in agriculture, forestry and conservation who are addressing the problem of shrinking forests.

The Task Force's report--"Tropical Forests: A Call for Action'--includes a 56-country plan for arresting and ultimately reversing the destruction of tropical forests. The report of the Task Force--covened by the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based policy research centre focusing on development and resources issues, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)--marks the first time major development assistance agencies and non-governmental organizations have agreed on solutions to reversing the process of tropical deforestation.

The Task Force recommends public and private investment of $8 billion over the next five years in forestry and related agricultural activities. Of that amount, $5.3 million would be directed to the 56 most critically affected countries.

"It is not just about trees, but about people and their prospects for a better life', says Gus Speth, President of the World Resources Institute. The plan "offers both grounds for hope and a basis for action. Its great value is that it moves beyond documenting the problem to proposing concrete solutions'.

Food, fuel, shelter: Throughout history, tropical forests have been essential sources of food, fuel, shelter, medicines and a variety of other products. They sustain people and their environments by protecting soil and water resources, and by providing habitats for an estimated 50 per cent of the world's plant and animal species. …