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The South Asian scenario

GIS Development Staff

Forest resources all over the world are deteriorating as a result of the material progress at the cost of ecology —the developing countries of South Asia are also on the same boat.

Forest is the most valuable renewable resource of the ‘biodiversity’ as the plants basically support the survival of each and every member of the biome. But unfortunately we have overlooked the aspect of degrading trend of the forest resources all over the world; conciousness grew up when we realised that we are trapped by a crisis caused by our own development plans for the material progress at the cost of ecology. In the late 20thcentury, eco-conciousness, for the first time, found a place in people’s mind. It is already too late to think about green covers surrounding us, still there is a hope if we balanced our economy properly with ecology. The crisis scenario varies from one country to another. This article aims to give an overview of the situation prevailing in the South Asian countries, which consist of remarkable variety of plants but yet to be conserved to make a proper eco-friendly environment.

With a great population pressure, Bangladesh consists of an underdeveloped economy as a whole, where the forests are subject to heavy demand pressures in terms of both wood production and competing landuses. But this country has relatively low proportion of forest cover. The forests are of three main types : (a) mangrove forests in the coastal delta, (b) hill forests in the interior, (c) a smaller area of inland sal (Shorea robusta) forest. An estimated 80 percent of wood production of Bangladesh is used for fuel, most of the reminder is converted to sawnwood. Significant areas of both hill forest plantations and mangrove plantations have been established. A number of protected areas are under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, though most of these have been degraded by illegal logging and forest clearing. In 1994 Bangladesh approved a new forest policy incorporating the concept of participatory forest management for the first time.

Situated in the eastern Himalayas, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country with some of the most rugged and mountainous terrain in the world. Over two-thirds of the country is forested where Fir forests, mixed coniferous, Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) and broad-leaved forests predominate. There is a negligible area under plantation forest. A relatively high proportion of forests are under protected areas and much of the forest which is legally available for wood supply is undisturbed by harvesting. Since 1965, there has been a great increase in the amount of reforestation in Bhutan, accounting for 1,000 ha. reforested annually. The government policy specifies that 60 percent of the country’s land area should remain under forest. The country enacted the Forest and Natural Conservation Act in 1995 and approved its revised social forestry rules in 1996. A proportion of log and processed production was exported previously, but now the exports of logs and sawnwood from Bhutan are banned.

The Republic of Maldives is actually a coral archipelago with 1190 islands in the Indian Ocean. Forests and woodland cover approximately 3 per cent of Maldives. Although there is no distinct forest in the islands, wood and tree products (predominantly coconut) are used as raw materials for boat and house building, fuelwood, fencing, foods and medicines. In Maldives all lands belong to the state. The government has recently stressed the importance of forest cover and encouraged tree planting on the islands. The most notable feature is that Maldives has launched a programme to plant 2 million trees partly to support timber production and also to minimise impacts of woodland degradation.

The forest resource is large in volume and diverse in character. On the other hand, the excess population pressure intensifies the demand of forest and forest products side by side. Nearly 23 percent of the total land area is classified as forest land, 4 per cent of which is protected. The forest types vary from tropical rainforest in north-east India, to desert and thorn forests in the western part covering Gujarat and Rajasthan; mangrove forests in Orissa, West Bengal and other coastal areas and dry alpine forests in the western Himalaya. Among them the most common forest types are tropical moist deciduous forests, tropical dry deciduous forests and wet tropical evergreen forests. India has established more than 12 million hectares of forest plantations, mainly for fuelwood purposes. Line planting along roads, canals and railways is also a very important wood source in India. The country has a large network of protected areas which include 80 national parks and around 450 wildlife sanctuaries. Annually 138,000 ha. of land is reforested. Commercial forestry is restricted in the northern highlands. The government of India approved an order in 1990 to encourage joint forest management in the degraded forest areas. Now 22 states including three states of the Western Himalayas ( Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, U.P.) and other three states of the North-eastern Himalayas (Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland) have approved enabling government orders.

The major part of Nepal lies in the sub-tropical monsoon region, but the wide range of topographic variation allows a wide variety of flora in the country. The distribution of natural forests mainly follows the altitudinal pattern. The most common species is the tropical sal (predominantly Shorea robusta) forests which occur at the altitude below 1000 metres. Sub-tropical forests are found at the altitude of 1000 to 2000 metres which are coniferous or broad-leaved. The principal coniferous species is chir pine (Pinus roxburghii). The broad-leaved forests are a mix of mainly chestnuts, alders and chilaune (Schima wallichii). The temperate forests lying at the altitude of 2000 to 3000 metres include a mix of oak, pine and rhododendron. Sub-alpine forests are found from around 3000 metres up to 4200 metres with a mix of firs, beech, rhododendron and juniper. The country has a modest area under plantation forest. About 15 per cent of Nepal’s land area is covered by national parks, wildlife reserves or conservation areas. Although the country has 35 per cent forest cover, but at least a quarter of the forest area is heavily degraded. Only 8 per cent of Nepal’s forests are protected and annually 4,000 ha. Of land is annually reforested. Considering this problem Nepal approved a new Forest Act in 1993 and this provides legal support to community forestry and remains one of the most progressive legislations for forest management.

Pakistan has very low forest cover, about 4 per cent of total land area is covered by forests, 5 per cent of which is protected. There is a great variety of species because of the country’s great physiographic and climatic contrasts. The forests of the country are of various types such as (a) littoral and swamp forests, (b) tropical dry deciduous forests, (c) tropical thorn forests, (d) sub-tropical broad-leaved evergreen forests, (e) sub-tropical pine forests, Himalayan moist temperate forests, (f) Himalayan dry temperate forests, (g) sub-alpine forests and (h) alpine scrub. The predominating species is of coniferous type. The North-West Frontier Province has around 40 per cent of Pakistan’s forests. Man-made forests are an important wood source in Pakistan. These are of four main types : irrigated plantations, farmland trees, linear planting and miscellaneous planting. About 90 per cent of the country’s wood production is used as fuel. In 1980’s 21.9 mil.cu.m. of wood was harvested most of which was used as fuel. A two-year ban has been put to protect the large-scale illegal logging. Annually 7,000 ha. Of land is reforested in Pakistan. The national draft Forest Sector Policy of Pakistan of 1998 is now under discussion and people’s participation is considered to be a strong element in the proposed policy.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, a moderately forested island state of the south coast of India, consists of mainly closed forests with broad-leaved and evergreen trees. The species are distinguished by their occurrence in dry or wet zones and by elevation. The remaining forests are mostly of dry monsoon type. Some areas are covered by savannah and thorn woodland and a small coastal areas of mangroves. Fragments of tropical rainforest are found, only a few areas covered by those forests are more than 10,000 hectares. Over the last century much of the forest resources have been converted into some other sorts of landuse such as plantation crops and other forms of agriculture, human settlements, shifting cultivation etc. The remaining part is also under a great pressure as the demand for the forest products is increasing with the population increase.

Area / Country 1995(‘000 ha) 1995 (%) 1990-’95
World 3,454,382 26.6 – 0.3
South Asia 77,137 18.7 – 0.2
Bangladesh 1,010 7.8 – 0.8
Bhutan 2,756 58.6 – 0.3
India 65,005 21.9 21.9 0.O
Maldives n.a. n.a. n.a.
Nepal 4,822 35.2 – 1.1
Pakistan 1,748 2.3 – 2.9
Sri Lanka 1,796 27.8 – 1.1

Sri Lanka has a estate comprised mainly of teak, eucalyptus, pine and mahogany. Here 13,000 ha. Of land is annually reforested. It has a strong tradition of forestry conservation and around 15 per cent of the country’s land area is under protected areas. Commercial logging is not permitted in the natural forests, trees outside the forests are vitally important which provide 70 per cent of the total needs of industrial wood. The capacity of the mills is small and the efficiency is low.

The green cover of the earth which is the prime support of our day-to-day life is rapidly decreasing as a result of human interferences. The worldwide situation of forestry is quite disappointing. In the whole world only 26.6 per cent of the land is covered by forests and in South Asia the situation is more depressing, only 18.7 per cent of the total land is covered by forests. Again, among the South Asian countries Pakistan and Bangladesh show the worst scenario. The proportion of land covered by forests in Pakistan and Bangladesh were 2.3 and 7.8 per cent respectively in 1995. Except for Bhutan, all the other countries consist of less than 50 per cent forest cover. The legal restrictions imposed are not satisfactory at all, as a result of which we find a decreasing trend of forests from 1990 to’95 in almost everywhere. In the six countries of South Asia, the amount of deforestation between 1980 and 1990 averaged 440,000 hectares of forests, which comes to a change of – 0.6 per cent per annum (FAO 1991). The forestry scenario as a whole suggests that the South Asian countries should have more green cover to provide a healthy breath and a better tomorrow for all.