When the forests are cut down, less moisture is evaporated into the atmosphere, resulting in the formation of fewer rain clouds. Subsequently, there is a decline in rainfall, subjecting the area to drought. If rains stop falling, within a few years the area can become arid with the strong tropical sun baking down on the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Deforestation is a threat to national security


Forests ensure national security

When the forests are cut down, less moisture is evaporated into the atmosphere, resulting in the formation of fewer rain clouds. Subsequently, there is a decline in rainfall, subjecting the area to drought. If rains stop falling, within a few years the area can become arid with the strong tropical sun baking down on the scrub-land.

Such losses of freshwater resources are considered one of the most immediate threats to national security. Freshwater — required for human consumption, agriculture, and industrial operations — or the lack thereof can have a tremendous effect on the social, economic, and political climate of a country. Under these circumstances, deforestation will adversely affect the survival of the nation.

Wars for water – not for oil

Today Madagascar is largely a red, treeless desert due to generations of forest clearing with fire. River flows decline and smaller amounts of quality water reach cities and agricultural lands. In interior West African countries, the declining rainfall has, in part, been attributed to excessive clearing of the coastal rainforests. Similarly, new research in Australia suggests that if it were not for human influences — specifically widespread agricultural fires — the dry outback might be a wetter, more hospitable place than it is today.

The effect of vegetation change from forests that favour rainfall to grassland and bush can impact precipitation patterns. Colombia, once second in the world ranking for freshwater reserves, has fallen to the 24th place due to its extensive deforestation over the past 30 years. Excessive deforestation around Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, combined with the dry conditions created by el Niño, triggered strict water rationing in 1998, and for the first time the city had to import water.  In the future, wars may be fought over water, not oil. In the 1990s, Egypt made it known to its upstream neighbours — Sudan and Ethiopia — that it is willing to go to war over the Nile’s water. The evidence amply justify that the deforestation has a direct adverse impact on national security.

World forest cover

Forests cover 31 percent of the global land area. About half the forest area is relatively intact, and more than one-third is primary forest (i.e. naturally regenerated forests of native species, where there are no visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed). The total global forest area is 4.06 billion hectares, or about 5,000m2 (or 50 x 100m) per person, but forests are not equally distributed around the globe. More than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China) and two-thirds (66 percent) of forests are found in ten countries.

Lanka’s forest cover

Sri Lanka had a forest density of 82 percent in 1882. It was 29.5 percent as of 2015, according to Sri Lanka forest officials. The Forest Department says a survey is generally carried out once in 10 years. In the 1920s, the island had a 49 percent forest cover. Between 1990 and 2000, Sri Lanka lost an average of 26,800 ha of forests a year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.14 percent. Sri Lankans have cleared 52.5 percent of the forests in 133 years. This may be due to the rise in population, agriculture, development, construction of major dams and highways and urbanisation. “The World Food and Agriculture Organisation ranked Sri Lanka as the 4th country with the highest rate of deforestation by 2010.  We are holding the same position even now.”

Premadasa’s National Green Initiative

Against such a backdrop, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, a nature lover, on March 3 introduced “the National Green Initiative” concept. It aims to mainstream environmental conservation across all sectors as a precondition to achieve sustainable development.

He commissioned his political party Samagi Jana Balawegaya to be the first party in Sri Lanka. This environmental friendly concept needs to be appreciated and supported not only by nature lovers but also by all the citizens in the country.

Deforestation at present

The government says it is committed to increasing the national forest cover by 30 percent. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasised the need for a sustainable environmental policy to support sustainable development and promised to increase the forest cover.

Despite the promise, what we see is the deforestation of protected areas. It is a nightmare for conservationists, environmentalists and nature friendly citizens.

The construction of the Neluwa-Lankagama-Deniyaya Road, the deforestation in Anawilundawa to establish a prawn farm and clearing of several forest areas around the country caught the attention of environmental activists. Furthermore, reports indicate the involvement of a few newly elected parliamentarians in deforestation activities.

However, the diffusion of the president’s aims and vision to the relevant political authorities and bureaucratic authorities seems questionable, amid incidents of deforestation and increased human activity. The authorities have failed to produce environmental assessments for development projects in forest areas. Election promises, a lack of political authority and a lack of sustainable strategies have led to the blind advancement of unsustainable development projects.

Human survival and national security

Trees have always been intricately linked to the survival and flourishing of human societies: they give us clean water, they hold and protect the soil, they cool the air and they shelter the fauna. From climate change to organised crime and the spread of infectious diseases, forest degradation is directly tied to a series of both national and global security risks:

The most serious consequences of deforestation and forest degradation have been identified as:

Reduced agricultural output due to changes in precipitation

Water scarcity and irregular water supply

Air pollution

Organised crimes. Provincial political authorities, under the cover of party in power, destroy forest cover for commercial purposes. Illegal deforestation also plays a significant role in organised crime.

Infrastructure damage from wildfires

Increase in the spread of infectious diseases

reduction in biodiversity

Increase in migration due to non-availability of water

Shortened life span of irrigation channels and reservoirs

Soil erosion and associated
loss of soil fertility

Reduction of wood supplies
and the resulting price increase
of wood and wood products

scarcity of fuelwood in
some localities

Effects on wildlife and adverse effects in tourism and livelihood

Contribution to all existing security risks related to global warming

The consequences of deforestation are directly effecting the human survival in numerous ways endangering the existence of environment. when deforestation effects human survival, it adversely impact on national security. It can be named as environmental security vulnerability.

Conditions for successful implementation of deforestation

Based on the Sri Lankan experience, the following aspects have been identified as necessary conditions for the successful implementation of deforestation.

Development of appropriate policy, legislative and institutional frameworks:  The development of appropriate policies with clear and functional definitions of conservation goals followed by suitable legislation and institutional arrangements is crucial. Furthermore, political will, Government commitment and support are necessary for effective implementation of the deforestation.

Development of alternative wood resources: Non-forest wood resources along with forest plantations can provide a viable alternative to timber from natural forests. Incentive schemes are necessary to encourage the private sector to establish forest plantations and plant trees in homegardens and agroforestry systems.

Demarcation of forest boundaries: Surveys and demarcation of forest boundaries are essential to prevent illegal felling and encroachment. Programmes should be prepared to survey and demarcate the large number of proposed forest reserves and other State forests, with financial assistance.

Relaxation of the private timber transport permit system: Sri Lanka’s private timber transport permit system has been identified as a disincentive for private sector involvement in homegardens, agroforestry systems and other non-forest tree resources. Even though permits have been recognised as important to the domestic timber supply, relaxation of the present system to promote private sector and community involvement in tree planting and forestry development is proposed.

Adequate resources for forest protection and law enforcement: If the natural forests are to be protected against illegal felling and encroachment, the number of cadres from the Wildlife Department and the Forest Department has to be increased. Training should be provided to the field staff to strengthen their law enforcement capabilities.

Political and public awareness and forest extension: Decision makers need to be familiar with the benefits of conservation. The current extension and awareness programmes implemented by the Forest Department, the Wildlife Department and NGOs should be strengthened and expanded to cover all levels of the target groups.

Community and participatory forest management: The National Forest Policy recognises that the State alone cannot protect and manage the forests effectively. People’s participation in forestry development and management should be promoted as one of the main strategies for forest conservation.

Improvement of the efficiency of forest industries: Old and inefficient equipment that has not been designed for small-dimension logs and inadequate management and labour skills are major problems in the forest industry. This leads to low recovery rates and poor overall productivity, particularly in the sawmill sector. The present average recovery rate has been estimated to be around 40 percent. Raising efficiency rates of wood-processing technologies is necessary to reduce waste.

Increase the range of timber species utilisation: Forest products and timber utilisation research needs to be strengthened to carry out more coordinated, product-oriented research and to disseminate information with greater emphasis on lesser-known timber species.

Development of a monitoring system for sustainable forest management: Development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management is an important aspect. Although there have been several international initiatives, Sri Lanka is still in the initial stages of this process.

Will deforestation impact national security?

When the forest cover is lost, runoff rapidly flows into streams, elevating river levels and subjecting downstream villages, cities, and agricultural fields to flooding, especially during the rainy season. During the dry season, such areas downstream of deforestation can be prone to months-long droughts which interrupt river navigation, wreak havoc on crops, and disrupt industrial operations. Deforestation effects water scarcity to industrial output, food insecurity, health hazards to job insecurity including air pollution. All the scientific reasons have logically suggested that deforestation effects the National survival and National security.

The death of the forest is the end of our life. 

(The writer is an international researcher and former Security Forces Commander of the Eastern Province and the Wanni Region)

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