Deforestation and soil erosion is a process generally caused by human activities. Humankind’s actions have reduced the forested surface area in almost all of the countries in the Greater Caribbean region. Among the main factors responsible for the reduction in forest cover are urban development and the conversion of land use to agriculture, industry and tourism. Forest areas are also frequently lost in the region due to natural disasters, which can cause severe damage to the forest cover, erode the soil and produce landslides and floods. The impact of these phenomena on the forests may be greater due to their increased frequency and intensity because of global warming. On the other hand, deforestation is responsible for the emission of gases that greatly contribute to the warming effect and in turn accelerates climate change.
One of the countries in the region that most exemplifies the inappropriate management of its forested areas is the Republic of Haiti. This country had 95% of its national territory covered by plant life in the late 18th century. Today, only 1.5% of its original forest cover remains. The elimination of the forest cover led to soil erosion, which has caused the loss of the majority of the country’s arable land. Erosion has also led to a reduction in groundwater filtration, an increase in floods and a reduction in the country’s biodiversity.
Forest areas are greatly important because they reduce runoff, lower the risk of erosion and sedimentation, produce wood, control the effects of floods, regulate the temperature and provide habitats for valuable species. A kind of forest, the urban forest, has been established in many cities around the world and has been shown to be successful in stimulating community involvement, reducing the level of violence, and increasing the aesthetic and financial value of properties.
Fortunately, forested areas have recovered in some sites, although in reduced form. A slight increase in forested area has been registered in the region, mainly due to the abandonment of agricultural land as a result of the reduction in agricultural exports and a greater emphasis on protecting and renewing the natural environment to support the tourism industry.
The development strategies of the region’s countries should include increasing forest coverage as an important priority. Among the strategies that should be tried to achieve this goal are:
1. Massive reforestation programs for forest systems, particularly mangroves.
2. Formulating public policies that use compensation and mitigation to achieve zero loss of plant coverage in areas destined for development.
3. Involve interested parties, particularly residents and users of the forests, in the design of plans for implementing management strategies to protect and preserve forest resources.
4. Require that each development project have a research and public education component about forest resources.
Author: Carlos Maysonet
Published: December 26, 2011.
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