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Desertification: We need to win

22nd March 2013
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Editorial Cartoon

Tanzania  is faced with many threats, dangers and risks. Wondering why? The depletion of her forests and the general mismanagement of the environment are but only a few of the most visible.

The country is located in what could be called the focal point of the tropical rain forest belt, yet nearly 60 per cent of her forest cover disappears each passing year through unmitigated mismanagement.

As a direct result once though impossible, the country is now considerably desertified and is witnessing a rise in carbon emissions due to indiscriminate tree felling and too much reliance on charcoal and firewood as primary sources of fuel.

Pressure from an international market hungry for timber is clearly among the major contributing factors to the country’s rapid loss of forests.

Efforts to address the problem come in a range of forms and include carious interventions, ranging from the construction and utilisation of more efficient charcoal kilns and stoves to the promotion of beekeeping as an alternate source of income for rural communities and rooting for more sustainable sources of energy.

It is estimated that tree felling costs the country 400,000 hectares of forests each passing year, the main culprit in the depletion of its major natural resources being demand for fuel for domestic use.

Huge forests in the Eastern Arc Mountains – Usambara, Uluguru and Ukaguru – have all been laid waste in the past half a century, making many “traditional” sources of water sources shrink and ultimately die off.

Small wonder that many species of tropical hardwoods in the forests are now known only in name; they have all disappeared with the loss of forests.

A formless energy policy that has failed to introduce mass use of enough alternative sources of energy as domestic fuel has left the forests at serious risk. Even kerosene, which is far from environmentally friendly, so scarce and expensive that it is hardly worth considering as an option.

Massive numbers of people depend on forests for domestic fuel and trucks loaded with firewood and charcoal endlessly leave the countryside to feed cities.

The furniture industry also depends mainly on timber (from forests) as the chief raw material. Lumbering is perhaps among the other major culprits in the deforestation chain; trees that took 50 to 100 years to mature are felled in an instant, often without replacement planting.

The consequences include loss of biodiversity and traditional ecosystems for several species of wildlife which, barring a miracle, face imminent. In some coastal areas where mangrove forests once flourished, human activities have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.

What we have done in the past 50 years of independence is to act only for today but doing little to ensure ourselves a secure tomorrow. But such behaviour has vast economic and social implications for posterity.

During the final years of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s leadership in the 1980s, the government launched vigorous tree-planting campaigns. That was commendable action, but it did not go far enough – unregulated lumbering and indiscriminate bush burning still pose serious danger to forests the government cannot redeem.

The government must act more decisively through the enforcement of existing regulations to rein in the destruction of our remaining forests and protect the environmental in general.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN