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Forests, like oceans, recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen, and provide habitats for most of the world’s biodiversity. They are also a vital source of building materials and firewood. But almost all of them are under threat.

We are losing forest at a rate of 375 km2 a day – an area the size of Greece each year. Causes include urban development, clearance for agriculture, fuel wood collection, timber exploitation, fires and submersion of forests in lakes created by hydro-electric dams. Deforestation contributes to desertification, global warming, poverty and loss of beauty. More than half the Central American rainforest has gone. The Amazon will not last to the end of the 21st century if the current rate of cutting it down continues.
click picture to enlarge

Map: dark green areas show location of the last remaining tropical rainforests

The world has lost 80% of the original forests that covered the earth. The remaining old-growth forests are found mostly in the Amazon rainforest, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, Canada and the Russian Federation. But they are threatened with logging, mining and development.

My parents told me the forest is sacred. In the past, trees were cut responsibly, not indiscriminately for money as they are today.
Chris Ugwa, Nigeria

Fires start from human action or natural causes. In Indonesia and many countries in South America, farmers start most of the forest fires to clear land of trees. Much of the cleared land is used for pasture. The fires in Indonesia in 1997 were featured in the news, but there were bigger fires in Brazil (1997) and Mongolia (1996). Forest fires add carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. In this way, the fires contribute to global warming and the smoke makes whole populations sick.

Many forests are sick! Air pollution is a main cause: smokestack industries cause acid rain, which attacks forests. In parts of Central and Eastern Europe, you see miles and miles of dead and dying trees. In Africa, drought, civil war, bush fires and inappropriate agricultural practices are degrading forests.

web site editor: webmaster@grida.no Last update: March 2000