Looking at the effects of deforestation on humans, it is one of the major environmental problems that has plagued both human, plants and animals in this 21st century leading to various adverse effects which affects man both directly and indirectly.
Deforestation being one of the environmental problems faced by the world today, let’s discuss the effects of deforestation on humans.
Before we look at the effects of deforestation on humans, let’s actually look at what deforestation is.
What is Deforestation?
According to National Geographic, “Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land.
Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but swaths the size of Panama are lost each and every year. The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines deforestation as the conversion of forest to other land uses (regardless of whether it is human-induced).
Top 10 Effects of Deforestation on Humans
Below are the effects of deforestation on humans;
- Soil Erosion
- Hydrological Effects
- Global Warming and Climate Change
- Melting of the Icebergs
- Disruption of Local People’s means of Livelihood
- Low Life Quality
- Loss of Habitat
- Low Agricultural Produce
- Health effects
- Economic impact
1. Soil Erosion
Soil erosion is one of the effects of deforestation on humans because as soil erosion happens, both man’s movement from one place to another, agricultural production, and even access to potable water can be adversely affected.
Deforestation weakens and degrades the soil. Forested soils are usually not only richer in organic matter, but also more resistant to erosion, bad weather, and extreme weather events.
This happens mainly because roots help fix trees in the ground and the sun-blocking tree cover helps the soil to slowly dry out.
As a result, deforestation will probably mean the soil will become increasingly fragile, leaving the area more vulnerable to natural disasters such as landslides and erosion.
Due to surface plant litter, forests that are undisturbed have a minimal rate of erosion. The rate of erosion occurs from deforestation because it decreases the amount of litter cover, which provides protection from surface runoff.
The rate of erosion is around 2 metric tons per square kilometer. This can be an advantage in excessively leached tropical rainforest soils. Forestry operations themselves also increase erosion through the development of (forest) roads and the use of mechanized equipment.
2. Hydrological Effects
The water cycle is one of the effects of deforestation on humans. Trees extract groundwater through their roots and release it into the atmosphere. When part of a forest is removed, the trees no longer transpire this water, resulting in a much drier climate.
Deforestation reduces the content of water in the soil and groundwater as well as atmospheric moisture. The dry soil leads to a lower water intake for the trees to extract. Deforestation reduces soil cohesion.
Shrinking forest cover lessens the landscape’s capacity to intercept, retain and transpire precipitation. Instead of trapping precipitation, which then percolates to groundwater systems, deforested areas become sources of surface water runoff, which moves much faster than subsurface flows.
Forests return most of the water that falls as precipitation to the atmosphere by transpiration. In contrast, when an area is deforested, almost all precipitation is lost as run-off.
That quicker transport of surface water can translate into flash flooding and more localized floods than would occur with the forest cover.
Deforestation also contributes to decreased evapotranspiration, which lessens atmospheric moisture which in some cases affects precipitation levels downwind from the deforested area, as water is not recycled to downwind forests, but is lost in runoff and returns directly to the oceans.
As a result, the presence or absence of trees can change the quantity of water on the surface, in the soil or groundwater, or in the atmosphere.
This in turn changes erosion rates and the availability of water for either ecosystem functions or human services. Deforestation on lowland plains moves cloud formation and rainfall to higher elevations.
Deforestation disrupts normal weather patterns creating hotter and drier weather thus increasing drought, desertification, crop failures, melting of the polar ice caps, coastal flooding, and displacement of major vegetation regimes.
Deforestation affects wind flows, water vapour flows, and absorption of solar energy thus clearly influencing local and global climate.
Further effects of deforestation on humans include coastal flooding. Trees help the land retain water and topsoil, which provides the rich nutrients to sustain additional forest life.
Without forests, the soil erodes and washes away, causing farmers to move on and perpetuate the cycle. The barren land which is left behind in the wake of these unsustainable agricultural practices is then more susceptible to flooding, specifically in coastal regions.
Biodiversity is one of the most known effects of deforestation on humans because deforestation is a threat to biodiversity.
In fact, forests represent some of the most veritable hubs of biodiversity. From mammals to birds, insects, amphibians or plants, the forest is home to many rare and fragile species.
80% of the Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests. These species are specifically supported by the rich forest environments that provide them with food and shelter. In most cases, when there is deforestation, many animals that depend on trees for livelihood are disadvantaged.
By destroying the forests, human activities are putting entire ecosystems in danger, creating natural imbalances, and putting Life at threat.
The natural world is complex, interconnected, and made of thousands of inter-dependencies and among other functions, trees provide shade and colder temperatures for animals and smaller trees or vegetation which may not survive with the heat of direct sunlight.
To be precise, birds, reptiles, amphibians among many other classes of animals depend on trees for food and shelter. Whenever there is deforestation, these species are lost either through death, migration, or the general degradation of their habitat.
It has been estimated that we are losing 137 plant, animal, and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation, which equates to 50,000 species a year.
Others state that tropical rainforest deforestation is contributing to the ongoing Holocene mass extinction.
The known extinction rates from deforestation rates are very low, approximately 1 species per year from mammals and birds which extrapolates to approximately 23,000 species per year for all species.
5. Global Warming and Climate Change
Global Warming and Climate change are some of the effects of deforestation on humans as the trees reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground giving the Earth an ambient temperature.
Trees also act as sinks for carbon dioxides which is a major cause of Global warming and climate change because the trees take in carbon dioxide and some of these greenhouse gases and give out oxygen.
The destruction of trees would cause a great number of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere increasing the rate of global warming.
Healthy forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, acting as valuable carbon sinks. Deforested areas lose that ability and release more carbon.
Also, burning and incineration of trees and related forest plants releases a large amount of CO2 increases the rate of global warming and consequently climate change. According to scientists, tropical deforestation releases 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.
One of the effects of deforestation on humans is desertification is when the land that once had habitable trees have been laid bare and this spreads across an area gradually transforming mostly forested areas into deserts. Deforestation has been known to be one of the major causes of desertification.
Deforestation increases greenhouse effects by reducing the number of greenhouse gases that is absorbed by trees this, in turn, raises evaporation and evapotranspiration levels and increased temperatures causing long dry season periods and therefore increasing drought.
The soil contains moisture that needs to be preserved and this can be done when there is sufficient forest cover. Soil is being covered by trees aiding the retention of water in the soil.
But when the soil is exposed to increased temperatures in the absence of trees, the soil heats up and the soil loses moisture this, in turn, truncates the water cycle causing limited or no rainfall in a particular region which may later lead to desertification.
7. Melting of the Icebergs
Melting of the icebergs is one of the effects of deforestation on humans. Deforestation in the Polar Regions leads to the disturbance of the ice caps. Deforestation exposes ice caps to increased temperatures which lead to the melting of the ice caps.
This leads to increased melting which further leads to the rise in the ocean or sea level. This in turn changes the weather patterns causing climate change and intense flooding.
8. Disruption of Local People’s means of Livelihood
Millions of people worldwide are supported by forest globally, that is to say, that many people depend on forest hunting, medicine, peasant agricultural practices and as materials for their local businesses such as rubber and palm oil.
But as these trees are harvested by majorly big businesses, this disrupts the livelihood of small-scale agricultural business owners making disruption of local people’s means of livelihood one of the serious effects of deforestation to humans needing urgent attention.
9. Low Life Quality
Deforestation is a major contributor to intense heat in various parts of the world spanning from the United States to India even many parts of the middle east and increased rainfalls in tropical rainforest areas including West Africa and South America.
This lowers the quality of living as noticed in many parts of the middle east, South America and Africa causing various problems that eventually lead to death if not handled timely. Deforestation decreases the availability of staple food and hence decreases the quality of life.
With this kind of disruption done majorly by big companies, local residents have to make a choice. They can either migrate leaving their lands to “greener pasture” with the challenge of experiencing a different life.
Or stay to work for the companies exploiting their land resources (forests) mostly getting petty salaries and most times they would have to work under unfavourable conditions. This in turn reduces their quality of life, one of the effects of deforestation on humans.
10. Loss of Habitat
Loss of habitat is one of the effects of deforestation on humans. 70% of land animals and plant species live in forests. The trees of the rainforest that provide shelter for some species also regulate the temperature.
Clearing of forested areas exposes the earth to unfavourable conditions which consequently leads to the destruction of innumerable species habitat as the forest sustains the life of various animal and plant communities.
This causes these plants and animals to adapt to unfavourable conditions and if they can not adapt, they either migrate to greener pastures or die off.
According to studies, deforestation has led to the exposure and destruction of many species which are very useful in the sustainability of the ecosystem.
11. Low Agricultural Produce
Deforestation consequently leads to varied rainfall patterns which in turn leads to extreme heat or intense rainfall. This disrupts planting and harvesting periods majorly in rural areas. This in turn affects crop yield causing low agricultural produce.
Deforestation also exposes the soil to extreme conditions which kill microorganisms which aids the development and growth of plants leading to low agricultural yield.
Deforestation also causes erosion which washes away agricultural produce reducing the net agricultural produce causing food insecurity making low agricultural production one of the effects of deforestation on humans.
12. Health effects
Health effects are one of the effects of deforestation on humans. Deforestation disrupts the balance of nature. Deforestation results in the death of various species of plants and animals that both helps in medicine production and indirectly prevent disease exposure to people.
Deforestation also exposes plants and animals which are dangerous to human health including zoonotic diseases. Deforestation can also create a path for non-native species to flourish such as certain types of snails, which have been correlated with an increase in schistosomiasis cases.
Diseases associated with forest include malaria, Chagas disease (also known as American trypanosomiasis), African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, HIV, and Ebola.
Majority of new infectious diseases affecting humans even the ones that are communicable.
The SARS-CoV2 virus that caused the current COVID-19 pandemic, is zoonotic and their emergence may be linked to habitat loss due to forest area change and the expansion of human populations into forest areas, which both increase human exposure to wildlife.
13. Economic impact
Economic impacts are one of the effects of deforestation on humans. According to the World Economic Forum, half of the global GDP is dependent on nature. For every dollar spent on nature restoration, there is a profit of at least 9 dollars.
According to a report by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Bonn in 2008, damage to forests and other aspects of nature could halve living standards for the world’s poor and reduce global GDP by about 7% by 2050.
Forested products like timber and fuelwood have been known to play a key role in human societies as compared to water and land forming a large part of the economy in both developed and developing countries.
Today, developed countries continue to utilize timber for building houses and wood pulp for paper. In developing countries, about three billion people rely on wood for heating and cooking.
Conversion of forest to agriculture and exploitation of wood products has caused short-term gains but will lead to long-term income losses and long-term biological productivity reduction. Illegal logging causes annual losses of billions of dollars to the economy of various countries.
The new procedures to get amounts of wood are causing more harm to the economy and overpower the amount of money spent by people employed in logging.
According to a study, “in most areas studied, the various ventures that prompted deforestation rarely generated more than US$5 for every ton of carbon they released and frequently returned far less than US$1”.
European market price for an offset tied to a one-ton reduction in carbon is 23 euro (about US$35).
Does Deforestation have any effect on man?
Yes, Deforestation has adverse effects on man and these effects could be direct or indirect. For direct effects of deforestation on humans, deforestation affects the health of man causing diseases of which some could be zoonotic.
For indirect effects of deforestation on humans, deforestation affects man’s economy which in turn leads to low means of livelihood.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
Let's see how we can mitigate these problems together.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.