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Natural forests disappearing at alarming rate in Asia-Pacific

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Apr 14 (UNI) The Asia-Pacific region, which covers the one-quarter of the world's land area, has lost more than six million hectares of natural forests--the size of Sri Lanka--during the last five years.

The region has 0.2 per hectares of forest per person--the lowest per capita in the world--compared to 1.1 hectares outside the region.

These disturbing facts have been brought out by the Food and Agricultural Organisation(FAO) ahead of the 21st meeting of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission beginning at Dehradun on April 17.

According to FAO, most of the lost natural forest land has been converted to cultivate agricultural crops and oil palm.

This loss of more than one million hectares of natural forest each year was alarming, says Patrick Durst, FAO's senior forestry officer for Asia-Pacific region.

He does not find enough comfort in the fact that the region has recorded the highest rate of forest plantation in the world over the past five years. This has helped the region reverse the 1990s' trend of net loss of the green cover into a net gain during the 2000 to 2005.

''While plantation forests are an extremely valuable resource and will undoubtedly supply an increasing portion of wood and fiber needs in future, they should not be considered a substitute for the region's dwindling natural forests,'' he said.

The loss of primary forests, where most forest biodiversity is found, is particularly disturbing in the region, he said.

More positively, forest areas designated as formally protected areas have increased in the Asia-Pacific since 1990 and are now slightly over 10 per cent of the total. In southeast and south Asia, the percentage of forest area designated primarily for the conservation of biological diversity is around 20 per cent.

Besdies deforestation, forests in the region are frequently disturbed by fires. Wildfires increased in scale and frequency throughout East asia during the past five years, while Australia also recorded several severe fires.

Wildfires are problematic in southeast Asia as well, sometimes burning for months causing choking haze pollution. In may countries of the region, fire is commonly used to clear land.

Invasive species also cause huge losses in forest productivity.

Economic losses resulting from invasive plant species are estimated at hundreds of billion of dollors.

However, the FAO notes that in terns of forest policies and legislations, the Asiapacfic region has made good progress. The majority of countries have updated their forest policies in recent years.

Some countries are modernising their legislation to match changes in their economy, society and environment. Throughout the region, countries are also more often decentralising forest management and involving the private sector and the civil society in forestry matters.


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