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Forest degradation and deforestation

Forest extent: Asia and the Pacific

Some 21 per cent of Asia and the Pacific is still forested and deforestation, while continuing, is at a relatively low rate - an annual average of 0.1 per cent a year.

Note: dark green represents closed forest, more than 40 per cent covered with trees more than 5 metres high; mid-green represents open (10-40 per cent coverage) and fragmented forest; light green represents other woodland, shrubland and bushland

Source: FAO 2001a

Deforestation and forest degradation are critical issues, threatening biodiversity, ecosystem stability and the long-term availability of forest products as well as depleting the natural resource base underpinning many national economies (UNESCAP and ADB 2000). Population pressure, heavy dependence on fuelwood, timber and other products, as well as conversion of forests to agricultural, urban and industrial land are the underlying factors for deforestation in the region. Forest degradation and deforestation has also resulted from overgrazing and shifting cultivation. In addition, as forests have become degraded, so fire, pests, diseases and natural disasters have caused greater damage. Construction of irrigation schemes, dams and reservoirs as well as mining are further causes of deforestation (ADB 2000a) while armed conflict has also taken a toll in some countries (UNESCAP and ADB 2000).

The latest Global Forest Resources Assessment (FAO 2001a) showed that, within the region, annual deforestation rates were highest in Southeast Asia at 1 per cent (equivalent to 2.3 million ha per year), whereas Northwest Pacific and East Asia had an increase of 1.85 million ha annually, due mainly to afforestation in China.

More that 40 per cent (and the highest diversity) of the world's mangroves grow along the coasts of South and Southeast Asia. A further 10 per cent grow in the Pacific. Mangrove forests provide numerous benefits to people and the environment but they are disappearing at an alarming rate in this region. More than 60 per cent (some 11 million ha) of Asia's mangroves have already been converted to aquaculture and more have been cleared to make way for rice farming or urban and industrial land use. Those that remain are exploited for timber, fuelwood, tannin and food items (UNESCAP and ADB 2000).

Change in forested land 1990-2000 by sub-region: Asia and the Pacific.
  total land area
(million ha)
total forest 1990
(million ha)
total forest 2000
(million ha)
% of land forested in 2000 change 1990-2000
(million ha)
% change per year
Australia and New Zealand 795.0 164.9 162.5 20.4 -2.4 -0.1
Central Asia 391.6 16.6 19.3 4.9 2.7 1.6
Northwest Pacific and
East Asia
1 147.8 195.2 212.7 18.5 17.4 0.9
South Asia 640.3 86.3 85.3 13.3 -1.0 -0.1
Southeast Asia 434.5 234.7 211.4 48.7 -23.3 -1.0
South Pacific 53.9 36.4 35.1 65.2 -1.2 -0.4
Asia and the Pacific 3 463.2 734.0 726.3 21.0 -7.7 -0.1
Source: compiled from FAO 2001a Note: numbers may not add due to rounding