How is deforestation affecting people?


Whether the cause of the destruction is (illegal) logging, the creation of plantations or the extraction of oil (see 7 Causes of Destruction) is almost irrelevant in view of the consequences that arise after the forest has been lost.

And the rate of destruction is still increasing: While around 1 million hectares were destroyed per year in Indonesia in the 1980s, it was 1.7 million hectares in the 1990s and the annual rate of destruction has been around 2 million hectares since 1996. Between 1985 and 1997 around 17 percent of the Indonesian forest was cleared in this way.

Overall, less than 30 percent of Asia's original forest area is now left; the situation in Africa is hardly any better.

If the forest is destroyed or even only changed in its composition, then this is a more or less devastating interference in a natural system with effects on

- biodiversity
- the water cycle
- the climate
- the protective functions of the forest
- the forest as an economic area
- the forest as a cultural space
- food sovereignty
- migration movements.

In our opinion, these aspects are essential for a sustainable coexistence of nature and humans and if they are (must) deteriorate or even be taken out of function, then this should not be done without foresight and a broad discussion.

Because the effects of this destructiveness are of immense proportions on ...

... biodiversity

Although the tropical rainforests only take up 6 percent of the land surface, they are home to half of all known species, including critically endangered species such as orangutans, tigers and wood rhinos. These and countless other animal and plant species are acutely threatened with extinction due to the deforestation.

Many species in the forests are still completely unknown. It is estimated that there are between 5 and 30 million species on earth, two thirds of which are suspected to be in the forests. Deforestation destroys large numbers of the complex networks and communities of the coherent forest ecosystem.

The "forest islands" that are often left over are marketed by the loggers as a contribution to biodiversity and careful use of nature, but can never be an equivalent substitute for an intact ecosystem. The loss of biodiversity does not only affect lovers of birds, insects or orchids. Biodiversity contributes to our diet and is used to make many products. 10,000 to 20,000 plant species are used to manufacture medicines alone.

... the water cycle

Forests are irreplaceable for both local and global water cycles. The Amazon rainforest alone serves as a reservoir for 16 percent of the world's freshwater.

The destruction of the forests not only jeopardizes the water supply in many places, but desert-like conditions are also spreading in regions where they should not occur due to climatic conditions, such as in Ivory Coast. These man-made deserts are barren and the soil is so badly damaged that plants can hardly grow again there.

...the climate

Forests play a central role in the carbon cycle, which is one of the reasons why they are important for the climate.

Integrated in plant biomass and soil humus, terrestrial ecosystems contain four times as much carbon as the earth's atmosphere contains in the form of CO2. Unused primeval forests have the largest storage capacity. Their carbon storage capacity is nowhere near achieved by commercial forests or plantations.

In addition to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, the extensive destruction of forests is a major contributor to climate change. Between 20 and 30 percent of the CO2 pollution of the atmosphere caused by humans comes from extensive forest destruction, mainly in the tropics and subtropics, but also in the northern coniferous forests. Indonesia's third place in the list of countries with the highest CO2 emissions is mainly due to the slash and burn of the peat rainforests there.

Stable and species-rich forest ecosystems have a greater chance of adapting to climate change than tree monocultures.

Basically, however, it is to be feared that ecosystems with long reproduction cycles (as forests are) will find it difficult to adapt to the expected climatic changes and that large areas will die out. Species-rich forest systems are at least more adaptable.

... the protective functions of the forest

The forest ecosystem provides natural protective functions that we often take for granted. We usually only notice the preciousness of these functions when they have to be replaced artificially and expensively after the destruction of the forest.

If the forest is destroyed, it can no longer filter water: drinking water has to be treated at great expense. The rain flows off faster: floods are increasing. In mountainous regions, forests are a natural protection against snow or debris avalanches. If the forest is cleared, mountain slopes slide down. Artificial barriers can only insufficiently replace the protective functions of the forest, they are complex and very expensive.

Without the protective canopy, the humus layer is washed away by rainfall (erosion) and the nutrients are washed out of the soil. This happens particularly quickly in the tropical rainforest because the humus layer is particularly thin due to the rapid degradation of the organic matter (mineralization). Within a short time, the soil becomes so poor that nothing can grow on it. Reforestation is then no longer possible or only possible with great effort.

... the forest as an economic area

Many millions of people worldwide depend on forests as an economic area. Deforestation deprives them of everything they need to live: food such as fruits, mushrooms, animals, building and fuel materials and their habitat.

Neither the subsistence economy of the population - mostly small farmers - who live around and in the forest, nor the hunting and gathering way of life of nomadic peoples is recognized by governments and corporations as valuable and worth living. These people and their way of life are not only seen as useless, no, in their uselessness they also "occupy" valuable land that could be used for supposedly more meaningful purposes. So they are driven out and the forest is transformed.

Since 1985, over 5 million people in Brazil have forcibly lost their land in favor of agricultural land, development projects etc. and the United Nations is expecting the displacement of 5 million indigenous peoples from their ancestral land in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, in order to make room for palm oil plantations to accomplish. Contrary to the promises of the plantation operators, these plantations only create a small number of jobs for the local population. Since the plantations do not offer a habitat for humans and animals, the population is threatened with poverty and hunger.

Because the forest has been destroyed and they no longer have land to live on or on, many people are forced to migrate to the cities, where they live in slums.

... the forest as a cultural space

For indigenous peoples living in and from the forest, the forest is much more than just an economic area.

Above all else, it is a cultural and living space for them, with which they have been deeply rooted for generations.

Their affiliation to the forest is evident through their language, art, religion and up to the level of child-rearing.

The deforestation of the forests changes their habitat and thus their social structure fundamentally or is even completely destroyed. This forces them to change their traditional way of life or to give up completely (settling down, moving to cities, relocating to reservations). In the long term, these forced changes will cause their traditions and language to be forgotten - entire cultures will be destroyed.

... food sovereignty

The destruction of forests as an economic and cultural area has massive effects on the food sovereignty of the affected population. The forest as the home of animals and plants, which are on the daily menu for many people, is being lost.

In addition to the losses caused by forest destruction, there are unresolved land rights issues and the competition for agricultural land from the cultivation of energy and fodder crops for export. Brazil, for example, produces soy on 22 million hectares, half of the country's total arable land - mainly for the European market.

The Indonesian government has decided to expand the area for the cultivation of oil palm plantations from currently around six million hectares to twenty million hectares by 2020. For these areas, natural rainforest has to give way and the local population has to give way too.

While bursts are being created for the western demand for animal feed and "bio" fuels, the local population is left with nothing. In its Millennium Development Goals, the UN has set itself the goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. However, the number of hungry people has now risen to 925 million. Not surprising in view of a global policy that is destroying forests as an economic area and, through the cultivation of energy and fodder crops on huge areas for the markets of industrialized countries, leads to food shortages and increases in price.

... migration movements

The deforestation of the forests destroys the habitat and basis of many people and has a lasting impact on the climate.

Both the immediate destruction of their habitat and the long-term consequences of deforestation due to a changing climate, sterile soils and desertification force many people to leave their homes - they become environmental and climate refugees. In 2005, the government of Papua New Guinea had the almost thousand inhabitants of the Pacific islands of Carteret evacuated from the rising sea levels.

In Sudan the desert is spreading further and further. In the past 40 years it has advanced a hundred kilometers to the south of the country. Due to massive deforestation, lack of rainfall and soil erosion, the land in northern Sudan is becoming sterile. Grain harvests are declining in a region with around 30 million inhabitants. Millions of people could be forced to migrate in search of a livelihood. Already today more than 5 million people are on the run in Sudan due to wars and displacement.

Exact figures on the extent of climate flight are not available, but estimates suggest that the number of official refugees (20 million) is already higher. Forecasts assume that there will be up to 200 million climate refugees in the next 30 years if it is not possible to contain climate change or develop suitable adaptation strategies.