Against a backdrop of worldwide concern over dwindling forests, an international consortium has unveiled a far-reaching strategy to halt tropical forest destruction in the third world. The consortium, backed by the United Nations, proposes to double the amount of money now being spent on forestry. One aim of the strategy, which encompasses 56 countries, is to reduce world poverty. Ethiopia, for instance, is enduring famine partly because land stripped of vegetation is now unfit for agricultural use.
Experts hold the destruction of landscapes in Asia, Africa, and Latin America responsible for intensifying poverty throughout the third world. They also say the accelerating disappearance of forests threatens thousands of plant and animal species.
``The deforestation occuring in the tropics today is one of the great tragedies of our time,'' says Dr. T. N. Khoshoo, former Secretary of the Environment of India and a member of the task force that developed the plan released yesterday. ``It is a classic example of a third-worldFORESTFOREST problem the industrial nations cannot afford to ignore.''
The strategy, presented by the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute, a Washington D.C.-based environmental think tank, calls for an investment of $8 billion over the next five years in thousands of projects in conservation, training, reasearch, and tree planting. Funding would be split by international aid donors and by governments and organizations of developing countries.
Officials of the World Bank and national aid agencies such as those of the United States and the Netherlands say they plan to increase spending on forest conservation efforts, thus quelling earlier speculation that Western agencies would not fund the plan. Still to be settled are concerns about the ability and will of many third-world governments to undertake drastic reforms of farming and land-use regulations.
But task-force members insist those countries have no choice. Over the past decade, experts have become increasingly alarmed as millions of acres of tropical forests fell at the hands of loggers, cattle ranchers, and farmers. The forests have also been assaulted by years of overgrazing and firewood collection.
The report, released Tuesday, estimates that 27 million acres of tropical forests -- enough to entirely fill New York State -- are lost each year. If tropical forests continue to be cleared at the current rate, the report concludes, at least 556 million acres will be destroyed by the year 2000. Additionally, biologists believe tropical forests shelter as much as half the world's species, so such destruction could, they say, take up to 20 percent of earth's plant and animal life with it.
The impact of such destruction has already been highlighted in Ethiopia. Scientists say massive destruction of vegetation there has reduced the soil's ability to hold moisture, thus intensifying the effects of drought and worsening the current famine.
The destruction of tropical forests is also thought to have a profound impact on world food production. More than half the 2 billion people who depend on firewood for cooking, cut trees down faster then they can be replaced. In areas where wood for fuel is scarce, an estimated 400 million tons of animal dung is burned to cook meals. The practice robs croplands of a major source of nutrients, however, and is estimated to decrease world food harvests by 14 million tons. The United Nations estimates world
grain shipments this year at about 12 million tons.
``Simply put, much more needs to be done in the forestry sector than has been done up until this point,'' says Charles J. Lankester, chief technical advisor at the United Nations Development Programme, a major aid distribution agency. ``It's everybody's problem now, and we're all going to have to chip in to fix it.''
Among the report's recommendations:
Revision of specified government policies in each of the 56 countries that encourage exploitation, depletion, or waste of forest resources.
International support for development projects in transportation and irrigation expressly designed to avoid wasting or destroying forest resources.
Establishment of policies that encourage local participation in rural tree-planting programs and natural forest management.
The plan is intended to supplement the efforts of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, which has declared 1985 the ``International Year of The Forest.'' The strategy is scheduled to be presented to the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development next week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. MAP: Annual losses of tropical forests Losing more than 1 million acres a year Losing 100,000 to 1 million acres a year Losing less than 100,000 acres a year BRAZIL, COLOMBIA, INDONESIA, MEXICO, NIGERIA, IVORY COAST, PERU, MALAYSIA, THAILAND, PARAGUAY, ZAIRE, MADAGASCAR, INDIA, VENEZUELA, NICARAGUA, BURMA, LAOS, PHILIPPINES, GUATEMALA, HONDURAS, BOLIVIA, NEPALm, CAMEROON, COSTA RICA, VIETNAM, SRI LANKA, LIBERIA, ANGOLA, ZAMBIA, GUINEA, PANAMA, ECUADOR, KAMPUCHEA, CONGO, GHANA, PAPUA NEW, GUINEA, KENYA, GUINEA-BISSAU, GABON, MOZAMBIQUE, TANZANIA, UGANDA, BELIZE, BANGLADESH, ETHIOPIA, PAKISTAN, SIERRA LEONE, BRUNEI CENTRAL AFRICAN, REP., EL SALVADOR, DOMINICAN RE P., SOMALIA, SUDAN, GUYANA, SURINAM, EQUATORIAL GUINEA, RWANDA, BHUTAN, CHAD, CUBA, HAITI, JAMAICA, TOGO, BENIN, BURUNDI, FRENCH GUIANA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, CAMBODIA Source: World Resource Institute