- Algeria and Tunisia are facing heavy costs due to deforestation and erosion, new studies demonstrate. While the Mediterranean area at large is facing desertification, North Africa was already seeing some of the great expenses of this trend.
- Ill-conceived land use policies and unregulated management practices in the Mediterranean have resulted in over-exploitation of forest resources, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "This has led to acute environmental damage, biodiversity loss, and desertification, thus endangering the livelihoods of millions of people."
On the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification yesterday, the two environmental groups WWF and IUCN had asked Mediterranean national governments to "combat desertification on the ground by restoring forest landscapes and the full range of environmental and socio-economic benefits they provide."
In Tunisia alone the costs of desertification have been evaluated at US$ 100 million a year. Tunisia loses 8000 ha of land every year to desertification and Algeria loses 40,000 ha. About 66 percent of rural Mediterranean has a moderate to high risk of soil degradation, according to WWF estimations.
- Contrary to popular belief, desertification is not the natural expansion of deserts, but results from a combination of human actions and climate change which transforms green landscapes into barren desert-like areas, WWF says.
Efforts to combat desertification in the Mediterranean - as in Tunisia in particular - have often focused on tree planting schemes, "which in many cases have failed to restore all the goods and services a healthy forest ecosystem can provide," the environmentalist group holds. In Tunisia, for example, large-scale reforestation schemes in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in extensive pine forest of little diversity.
- To successfully restore forest landscapes, national policies need to integrate environment and socio-economic aspects, and all concerned institutions should be involved in the process, said Pedro Regato, Head of the Terrestrial Unit at WWF Mediterranean Programme. "Governments should eliminate or reform the economic, financial, and policy incentives that contribute to forest loss and degradation," he added.
The IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, WWF, and their partners were now promoting Forest Landscape Restoration as a process that aimed at "regaining ecological integrity and enhancing human well-being in deforested or degraded forest landscapes," WWF said in a statement today.
This process was focusing on restoring the functions that forests provide - such as food, habitat for species, soil stabilisation, and medicinal plants - at the broader landscape level as opposed to solely promoting increased tree cover in a particular location.
Due to the urgency of the desertification problem, WWF and IUCN, in their recent workshops with other governmental and intergovernmental institutions, experts and civil society groups from the region, had pointed out the need for national and trans-national forest landscape restoration programmes.
- Forests lie at the nexus of local livelihoods, biodiversity maintenance and reducing land degradation, for example due to erosion, said Jamie Skinner, Director of the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation. "They also regulate floods of water and it is essential that these wider functions are recognised by managers of these areas," she added.
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