Friday, 14 August, 2020
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OPINION

Environmental Disaster



Karim Okanla

Poverty is a driver of deforestation in sub-Saharan countries. Disadvantaged communities need land for small-scale farms as well as firewood and charcoal. Logging, cash-crop plantations, mining and large-scale infrastructure projects cause harm too.
In Côte d’Ivoire, about 80 per cent of the original forest cover has disappeared. Much of it has given way to cocoa and coffee plantations. Many wonder if at least some of the country’s pristine forests can be saved. The EU REDD Facility, which supports action on reducing climate-relevant emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, reckons that the annual rate of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire is about three per cent.
Things look similarly bad in Nigeria. According to Muhtari Aminu-Kano, who heads the non-governmental Nigerian Conservation Foundation, 96  per cent of the original forests are gone. He says the main drivers of deforestation are the growing population’s demand for more farmland and firewood as well as the timber business. Aminu-Kano warns that biodiversity is being lost and that this trend will have harmful impacts on people.
Poor people’s survival strategies matter in other places as well. The WWF, an international non-governmental organisation, reports that two African regions are among the “deforestation fronts” which will account for 80  per cent of global forest losses in the next 10 years: the Congo basin and Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya on the Indian Ocean. The main causes are said to be small-scale agriculture and the demand for firewood and charcoal.
It is worth emphasising that, in the WWF assessment, poor people’s needs are especially important. They are prevalent in many other sub-Saharan countries. The implication is that alleviating poverty is necessary to stop deforestation. More productive livelihoods and smallholder farming are needed. Poor people’s access to electric power and more efficient energy resources matters as well. These are huge challenges with an immediate bearing on forests, though many relevant policy interventions do not tackle forest issues directly.
Nonetheless, it is certainly necessary to regulate the logging industry and implement forest protection schemes. In some cases, better law enforcement would do the job.
Large-scale forest programmes can be hard to implement. An example is the Great Green Wall. The idea is to use afforestation as a means to stop desertification on the Sahara’s southern fringes. A forest belt of trees is to be planted along a stretch of almost 8,000-km length from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East. The African Union endorsed this project in 2007, but so far, not much progress has been made.
The Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey appreciates the Great Green Wall in principle, but he has pointed out that involving the local people is essential for the long-term success.
Liberia is a small West African country with the forest cover that is still comparatively dense. There are disputes over forest use, however. As a study published by the independent World Resources Institute concluded, women matter in particular. Though they often have a deep understanding of related issues because they depend on forest resources, they tend to be excluded from decision-making processes. Having to take care of their families, they are not expected to become engaged in politics and typically lack the time for such engagement anyway. More gender justice would thus contribute to a healthier environment.

Development And Cooperation 

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