The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has just launched its annual report on the "State of the World's Forests 2001." The report warns that the world is continuing to lose many of its forests, especially those in developing countries.
During the 1990s, the FAO report says more than 16 million hectares of natural forest were lost each year. It names Africa and South America as two areas where deforestation was particularly severe.
Among those countries that suffered the greatest losses are Argentina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, the Sudan and Zimbabwe. During the same period, the report says a number of countries expanded their forest areas. These include China, Russia and the United States.
The Food and Agriculture Organization says there are various reasons for the disappearance of forests. Some are intentional, such as when forests are cut down and the land is used for agriculture. But in other cases, pests, disease, fire or storms are responsible for the destruction of forests.
Hosny El-Lakany is assistant director-general of the FAO's forestry department. He says the consequences of deforestation and forest degradation are very serious, including erosion. "That is water erosion or wind erosion. It threatens also the bio-diversity as a result of deforestation. It also has ... economic consequences, mainly related to the livelihood of people," he said.
Mr. El-Lakany says there is a clear link between poverty and deforestation. He says many poor people in developing countries live off the forest, and if they have not been taught good management practices, they will overexploit the forest resources.
Mr. El-Lakany says illegal logging appears to be growing in developing countries. He says most of these activities involve the extraction of high-value timber from the forests.
"There is a lot of corruption in granting concessions and in international trade and transportation. Then there is a lot of corruption in the conversion of the forest and how the forest is converted. Sometimes, it is not logged, it is burned to have other production," explained the FAO official.
According to the report, illegal forest practices are very profitable. But it says in recent years there have been some encouraging developments. It says private organizations have launched campaigns that have had successes in fighting corruption.