Save forests because they serve us

M. Somasekhar | Updated on June 04, 2011

A wild elephant set to cross a road cutting through a forest.Demands of a growing economy and population of over abillion are gobbling forests, which constitute just over 20 percent of the country’s geographical area. The ideal area underforest cover for a country is around 33 per cent.

What is common to depleting numbers of tigers in India, less rainfall in some areas, corporates — including multinational corporations — struggling to start their mega projects, expanding deserts and vanishing bio-diversity? The answer is either the shrinking of forests or a threat to eat into forest land for development.

In the continuing conflict between humans and nature, the tiger has borne the brunt as at several places large forest areas have shrunk with the expansion of human activity. The depletion of forest reserves has pushed them into villages as they hunt for prey. In short, reducing forest cover, along with trade interests in tigers, has led to the fall in the numbers of the big cat.

Minerals v/s forest cover

There has been tremendous pressure on the precious forests of the country in the last few decades to meet the demands of a growing economy and population of over a billion people. Highways, large mining projects, exploitation for resources, felling of trees for illegal trade and cultivation of marginal lands are all gobbling forests, which constitute just over 20 per cent of the country's geographical area.

The ideal area under forest cover for a country is around 33 per cent, argue experts. This would enable a balance as forests provide rich and diversified resources for humans while absorbing a good amount of harmful carbon-based gases. At present, India has about 70 million hectares (mha) of land under forests.. However, since mineral resources also rest in forest areas, there is always an effort to tap them. The Government of India has been trying to improve the forest cover and claims it has added 3 mha of forest cover in the last decade.

This year the UN has chosen India as the global host for the World Environment Day (WED) 2011. The UN has declared the year as the International Year of Forests with the theme ‘Forests: Nature at Your Service'.

Unep report

According to the UN Environment Protection's (UNEP) latest report, about 36 million acres of natural forest are lost each year, yet 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Forests are crucial for sustainable development. Forests are also “essential in supplying water to nearly half of the world's largest cities”, it says.

“The impact of forests reaches even further. In many developing countries more than 80 percent of total energy consumed by people and industry derives from forests,” notes UNEP.

“Trade in timber and other forest products is estimated at almost 330 billion US dollars/year. Its value multiplies as it's processed into a myriad of products used globally every day. Use of the genetic diversity within forests enables the development of new medicines, progress in health care and science.”

In the backdrop of the growing threat of the negative implications of climate change for the Earth and its resources and human health, there is great need for conservation of forests. Therefore, it is a welcome move that the Prime Minister's Council on climate change has approved the National Mission for a Green India initiative.

According to the mission, the Government has unveiled plans to invest up to a few hundred billions to raise around 10 mha of forest cover by 2020. This would help an annual carbon dioxide sequestration of 50-60 million tonnes, which will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Under the mission, proposed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, targets to raise 2 mha of moderately dense forests, 4 mha of degraded forests, restoration of 2 mha of degraded scrub/grasslands, 0.10 mha of mangroves and conserve an equal extent of wetlands.

Similarly, bringing 1.5 mha of degraded agricultural lands and fallows under agro-forestry, improving efficiency of devices that use fuel wood (adopted in 10 million households) and securing around 0.1 mha of corridor areas critical to wildlife migration have been proposed under the mission.

Published on June 04, 2011

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