Deforestation in Vietnam,
Laos, and Cambodia
Christopher R. Lang
Since the beginning of the colonial period in the mid-nineteenth century the area of forest in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia has declined, at times rapidly, at other times more gradually. Establishing the causes of forest loss and the rate of deforestation, however, is a complex and politically charged area. Statistics indicating forest cover are manipulated by states, consultants, aid agencies, and nongovernmental organizations to suit their own agendas. In the process, local communities' needs and rights are often overlooked. Be- fore investigating aspects of deforestation in the three countries, therefore, this chapter explores some of the problems associated with national forest statistics. Forest-cover statistics present a snapshot overview at a national level, but gloss over the complexity of local situations. The sections that follow on each country are an attempt to provide some of the issues behind and causes of deforestation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Although the situation in each country today is different, there are certain similarities. The colonial period saw the beginning of industrial-scale exploi- tation of forests in the region. Forests were logged or cleared to make way for rubber, coffee, and tea plantations. Roads were built to facilitate timber extraction and to increase colonial control over remote areas. The U.S.- Vietnam War had a devastating impact on the region's forests, and since the war logging has played and continues to play a large role in forest destruc- tion. More recently, a range of international aid agencies and international conservation organizations have played an increasing role in the way the region's forests are managed.