Tanzania’s entire forest cover will disappear in about 10 to 16 decades if the current high level of deforestation is not checked, a new survey warns.
While the survey by Conservation International, a non-profit organisation with its headquarters in Washington, DC, United States, has revealed that 2,300 square kilometres of forests is being destroyed yearly, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has put the annual deforestation rate at whopping 4,200 square kilometres.
Currently, Tanzania has 385,000 square kilometres of forest cover, but experts warn that this could disappear fast if measures are not taken to reverse the alarming situation. According to experts, the wanton felling of trees or burning of forests releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, leading to global warming that could result in increased drought, flooding, poor harvests, water shortages and a growing number of refugees driven from the worst hit areas.
The satellite survey conducted by the American organisation shows that deforestation has more than doubled in recent years from 92,000 hectares (about 920 square kilometres) to 230,000 hectares (2,300 sq km) annually.
A senior government official told The Citizen that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had put the annual deforestation in Tanzania at 420,000 hectares (4,200 sq km). The area being denuded of forest cover is larger than most of the biggest districts, including Newala in Mtwara Region, whose size is 2,126 sq km. The situation, government officials are warning is alarming.
The Director of Forestry in the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Felician Kilahama, revealed the shocking statistics on forest loss in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday during a high-level roundtable discussion on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Climate Change.
Dar es Salaam alone, Dr Kilahama said, with a population of five million people, accounted for a sizeable portion of the destruction of forests, as it was consuming 500,000 tonnes of charcoal annually. “Indeed, we are in trouble,” he said, adding: “People are cutting down trees because they have no alternative. And since the trees can’t run away like animals, they are easy victims.”
Dr Kilahama later told The Citizen in an interview that Conservation International, an organisation that seeks to protect the earth’s biodiversity hotspots around the world, had released the new figures.
A different study conducted by the Dar es Salaam-based Centre for Energy, Environment, Science and Technology (Ceest), estimates that about 70 per cent of the deforestation in Tanzania is due to fuel wood harvests. About 30 per cent of the deforestation, the study adds, is as a result of agricultural land clearing.
The study says that as the economy grows, the deforestation associated with agricultural land use clearing is expected to rise, increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, and reducing the supply of material traditionally available to provide energy.
At the global level, about 130,000 sq km of forests – roughly the size of England – are lost every year, generating almost a fifth of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, or more than the total emitted by cars, boats, buses and aeroplanes.
The Norwegian Government has for a long time been involved in natural resource management in Tanzania, and currently has on top of its priorities, funding the campaign against deforestation.
The counsellor for environment and climate change at the Norwegian Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Mr Ivar Jorgensen, said they were supporting Tanzania’s efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. He said the UN and the World Bank had also sponsored some programmes.
Mr Jorgensen said that in 2007, during the international climate change negotiations on Bali, Indonesia, his country had pledged substantial funding to developing countries to help reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
“Norway is also working towards a new international regime that rewards developing countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” he said.
The roundtable discussion was moderated by veteran Tanzanian journalist and publisher Jenerali Ulimwengu, and attended by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator General Helen Clark, cabinet ministers, academicians, heads of diplomatic missions, and representatives of civil society and non-governmental organisations.
Ms Clark, who is also chair of the UN development group, expressed hope that the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would be achieved at global level by 2015. They include reducing extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting epidemics such as HIV/Aids, and developing a global partnership for development.
She praised Tanzania’s effort to educate children. “If every child gets an education, it is a fundamental building block for development.” The Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Prof David Mwakyusa, said Tanzania had made tremendous achievements in combating major diseases such as malaria in children, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.
“Child immunisation rates are high, reduction of malaria has a bearing with children’s attendance in hospitals being encouragingly low,” said the minister. However, Prof Mwakyusa said maternal mortality was still alarming, adding that this could not be allowed to go on. The Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives, Mr Stephen Wasira, said Tanzania was taking measures to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture.
However, he said that out of 29 million hectares of land suitable for irrigation, only 3,000 hectares was being used. The Minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office responsible for the environment, Dr Batilda Burian, said climate change was adversely impacting on Tanzania and explained the measures being taken to mitigate its effects.
An expert in meteorology at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Prof Ernest Njau, warned of a looming disaster, saying that research by a US organisation had revealed that a serious drought would occur between 2020 and 2030.
Another UDSM scholar, Prof Yohana Msanjila, of the Institute of Kiswahili Studies, said the MDGs could be realised if Tanzania gave priority to research. “The MDGs could be achieved if the implementation was based on research,” said the don. He lamented the dearth of research in the country because of poor funding.