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Forests shrinking at alarming rate

Burning forests

Fires a persistent problem

October 8, 1997
Web posted at: 5:09 p.m. EDT (2109 GMT)

From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie

LONDON (CNN) -- Ninety percent of the world's species are found in forests. But almost everywhere around the globe, trees are disappearing.

In Brazil's Amazon rain forest, for example, this year's dry spell is resulting in more fires than ever before. And in Indonesia, out-of-control fires have blanketed the region with an unhealthy haze.

There also are other culprits, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature: ignorance, greed, questionable agricultural and forestry practices, and inappropriate land development.

All are causes for international concern, says the organization's Francis Sullivan.

"We like to think of the Amazon as the global air conditioner. It cools and cleans the planet and rejuvenates oxygen levels in the atmosphere," he told CNN.

"With these massive fires, we're seeing large areas destroyed. They'll never properly recover. This, I believe, is folly for humans on this planet."

Some wildlife -- certain birds and monkeys -- are being pushed to the brink of extinction.

Timber trucks

"What we're looking at is 6,000 to 8,000 years of human evolution, and during that time we've actually stripped away a full two-thirds of the forests that were existing before then. So we're looking at an enormous, devastating problem," Sullivan says.

Forests disappearing fastest in Asia

According to the WWF, deforestation is most rapid in Asia, where 88 percent of the forests are gone.

Pakistan and Thailand, for example, lose 4 percent to 5 percent of their forests every year, and may be completely denuded in 15 years, creating semidesert conditions.

The situation is similar in Nigeria and Ivory Coast in Africa, and in the Latin American nations of Paraguay and Uruguay.

"These are the countries which really show what the world is going to be like in 10 or 15 years," Sullivan warns.

"It's a chilling situation with terrible poverty, terrible soil erosion, completely unstable agriculture, widespread flooding and, of course, a terrible impact on wildlife populations."

Heavily forested nations such as the United States, Russia and Brazil are among the worst offenders, he says. And Europe, which has lost 62 percent of its forests, protects only 2 percent of what remains.

Nations must preserve or restore at least 10 percent of their native woodland before it disappears completely, according to the environmental group.


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