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Philippine forests dwindling fast
Posted: 01 Aug 2000
Surging population growth can be directly connected to the loss of forest growth in the Philippines, writes award winning environmental journalist Henrylito Tacio.
In 1934 the Philippines had a forest cover of 17 million hectares, while the population was 14 million. In 1960, the forest cover shrunk to 13 million while the population ballooned to 27 million.
Since then, forest cover has continued to dwindle. Today, the Philippines has a remaining forest cover of 5.5 million hectares, or approximately 18.3 per cent of the total land area. At least 163,000 hectares of forest is lost every year.
Unfortunately, most of the remaining forest is located in the uplands. Currently, 20 million Filipinos are living in these areas, which are described as "environmentally fragile". Population growth in the uplands is double the national average.
"The upland growth rate is pegged at 5 per cent," says Ernesto Lim senior advocacy of the Upland NGO Assistance Committee. "An increasing migration rate has contributed to the growth of the upland population."
"The (surging population) in the uplands today threatens the survival of the remaining forests, despite government efforts at protection" deplores Dr Angel Alcala, former secretary of environment and natural resources.
Dr Ernesto Guiang, reporting on the state of the Philippine uplands in 1998, said that more than eight million hectares of the 11.9 million hectares classified as uplands in the country "are under some kind of cultivation."
"If the present rate of population growth in the uplands persists, the corresponding expansion of upland cultivation may result in further degradation of the watersheds, increased soil erosion, flooding, sedimentation and siltation whose effects will be felt in the lowlands as well, warns the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
"Soil erosion is an enemy to any nation - far worse than any outside enemy coming into a country and conquering it because it is an enemy you cannot see vividly," argues America agriculturist Harold R. Watson, who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for international understanding in 1985. "It's a slow creeping enemy that soon possesses the land."
The destruction of the forests has also put many species on the endangered list and brought some to the verge of extinction.
"A large number of endemic species in the Philippine tropical rainforest and the forest itself are now threatened with complete destruction, making the country a 'hotspot' - an area where there is a high probability of species extinctions," reports the Green Forum- Philippines. Already eight species of fauna (including the Philippine Eagle and tamaraw), are included in the list of either rare of endangered species, while 40 per cent of the total endemic species are reported to be extinct.
Aside from population growth, other culprits for the disappearance of the country's forest cover are logging and mining. The Catholic Church has labelled unregulated logging, which continues to precipitate devastating flash floods in Mindanao, a 'social sin'. Mining operations, for their part, "greatly catalyse forest destruction" according to the Philippine Environmental Quality Report, and can generate soil erosion and siltation problems.
Henrylito D Tacio is People & the Planet correspondent in the Philippines.