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FAO to Meet on Forestry Issues

Two high-level meetings on forestry will be held at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization based in Rome. The main issues for discussion will include forest fires, sustainable forest management, and the role of the forest sector in the rehabilitation of Asian communities following the tsunami disaster of December 2004.

About 50 ministers will attend the one-day ministerial meeting on forestry Monday, followed Tuesday by the five-day 17th session of the Committee on Forestry.

The FAO expects a record number of delegations from member countries, non-governmental organizations and international organizations to take part in the meetings.

FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry Department, Hosni El-Lakany, says delegates will discuss a number of key issues.

"International arrangements to fight forest fires, looking at the future international arrangements on forests following the United Nations Forum on Forests 50th meeting in May this year, and then looking at the proposed role of forestry in achieving the Millennium Development Goals including poverty reduction," he said.

The rate of deforestation has declined in the past decade compared to the one before, but Mr. El-Lakany says it remains too high and the world needs to work towards sustainable forest management.

Forest fires are a significant cause of deforestation and they emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to climate change. Until now cooperation on forest fire management focused on fire suppression.

But there is a growing realization that forest fires are linked with forest management and that better managed forests contribute to less forest fires.

Delegates to the meeting will also discuss the role of the forest sector in the rehabilitation of Asian communities following the tsunami disaster of December 2004. Fears have arisen that tsunami-affected countries are at risk of over-exploitation of forests to meet immediate needs and reconstruction work.

Mr. El-Lakany recently visited Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest hit by the tsunami.

"We have to look at wood salvage, because there is a lot of wood lying there and the pest and disease associated with this could happen very soon in these tropical areas," he said. "Then we will have to look at the provision of wood needed for building boats and so on because the last thing we want to see is that the people go to the forests, cut the forests, increase the deforestation to built boats or hunt for fuel wood."

Mr. El-Lakany added that reforestation is just one aspect that needs to be addressed in the country's coastal areas and coordination of forestry related issues is of primary importance. FAO says priority action in tsunami-damaged areas includes meeting the immediate needs for wood, restoring livelihoods and rehabilitating damaged forests.