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Forests: West Asia

Forest extent: West Asia

The least forested region, West Asia has only 0.1 per cent of the world's forest and only 1 per cent of its land area is forested

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

Forests and woodlands of West Asia occupy only 3.66 million ha or 1 per cent of the region's land area and account for less than 0.1 per cent of the world's total forested area (FAO 2001a). The majority of forest cover (62 per cent) is in the Arabian Peninsula with the remainder scattered in the mountains and hills of northern Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The best stands of closed forests are found on the uplands near the Mediterranean. Tracts of mangrove forests grow along the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula. Forest resources are state-owned and administered centrally (FAO 1997).

The forests and woodlands of the region are generally composed of slow-growing species of poor quality and of little economic value (Nahal 1985, FAO 1997). Harsh climatic conditions limit forestry potential and restrict regeneration once forests are degraded (Abido 2000a). Under rainfed conditions, average forest productivity varies from 0.02 to 0.5 m3/ha/year, although it reaches 2.9 m3/ha/year in the natural forests of Pinus brutia of northern Syria (Nahal 1985, GORS 1991). By contrast, the productivity of irrigated eucalyptus plantations may exceed 17 m3/ha/year (Abido 2000b). Nevertheless, forests play a vital role in protecting the region's water and soil resources, especially in steep and mountainous terrain, and in areas prone to desertification. They also afford protection from dust storms and stabilize dunes and river banks (FAO 1997).

All countries in the region depend on imports to meet the bulk of their wood product needs. The total value of forest product imports increased nearly fourfold between 1972 and 1996, from US$131 million to more than US$500 million (FAOSTAT 1998) while exports of forest products totalled US$36.6 million between 1996 and 1998 (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 2000).