Top 14 Effects of Deforestation on the Environment

Deforestation has numerous devastating effects on the environment. The top 14 effects of deforestation on the environment are carefully outlined and studied in this article.

The concept of sustainable development originated and evolved within forest science because of the effects of deforestation. The effect of deforestation on the environment is the loss of forest resources which also includes ecosystem services offered by these forests.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Forests and trees support sustainable agriculture. They stabilize soils and climate, regulate water flows, give shade and shelter, and provide a habitat for pollinators and the natural predators of agricultural pests. They also contribute to the food security of hundreds of millions of people, for whom they are important sources of food, energy, and income.

Forests currently cover about 4 billion hectares. This is about 31 percent of the earth’s land surface.  An average of about 5.2 million hectares of forest cover has been lost yearly, to deforestation in the past ten years.

The word deforestation is sometimes replaced with other words such as revegetation, tree felling, tree cutting, land clearance, etc. These words explain however the different aspects of deforestation or the activities that lead to deforestation.

Deforestation in a simple term can be said to be the loss of forest resources especially the loss of forest trees. It is the removal of forest tree covers, and conversion of a once existent forest to other land use activities such as agriculture, construction of industries, roads, estates, and airports.

Deforestation has always occurred alongside economic development. Agriculture, mining, urbanization, are economic activities that have encouraged deforestation over the years. These activities require a large expanse of land. Livestock farming is believed to be responsible for about 14% of global deforestation.

Before the early 1900s, temperate forests in Asia, Europe, and North America recorded the highest rates of deforestation. By the mid-twentieth century, deforestation had essentially come to a halt in the world’s temperate forests.

As the rate of deforestation gradually came to a halt in the temperate regions, it increased in the world’s tropical forests. These tropical forests have maintained this high level of deforestation because of dependence on land-based economic activities

In sub-Saharan Africa, demand for fuel, agricultural land, production of cash crops such as cotton, cocoa, coffee, and tobacco, have resulted in deforestation. Also, the acquisition of a large area of land by foreign investors has accelerated this process in some countries in recent times…

In northern  Africa and the Mediterranean basin, activities such as building ships, heating, cooking, construction, fueling ceramic and metal kilns, and making containers led to tree logging.

Dependence on forest resources for economic growth differs from one society to the other.  In the pre-agrarian society, forest resources are the only source of livelihood thus, high dependence and exploitation and unsustainable use for raw materials and fuel of forest resources are prevalent. In the agrarian society, forests are cleared for agricultural purposes. In the post-agrarian societies where economic development has progressed, the focus is on sustainable forest management. Sound forest practices, backed by political commitment, have been implemented.

Although the global rate of deforestation has slowed in the last decade, it is still alarmingly high in many parts of the world. Even the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) indicator on forests has not been achieved.

According to Folmer and van Kooten, many governments encourage deforestation by providing direct or indirect subsidies and incentives for agriculture. These governments have also failed to recognize the importance of the non-timber benefits of forests and the external costs associated with forest clearing.

Does deforestation have any effect on the environment?

Yes, it does.

Forests are widely known as the world’s largest repository of terrestrial biodiversity. They also play a vital role in global climate change mitigation and contribute to soil and water conservation in many fragile ecosystems.

According to the State of the World’s Forests’ report, forests are very important components of the environment. They have direct and measurable impacts on people’s lives.  Forest resources and services generate income and meet the food, shelter, clothing, and energy demands of man. Removal of forests, therefore, means withdrawal of these resources and services.

Top 14 Effects of Deforestation on the Environment

The effects of deforestation on man, and other components of  the environment are as follows:

  • Loss of Employment
  • Loss of Woodfuel Energy
  • Loss of Shelter Materials
  • Loss of Income from Payments for Environmental Services (PES)
  • Loss of Income from the Production of Non-Wood Forest Products
  • Loss of Habitat and Biodiversity
  • Loss of Renewable Resources
  • Soil Erosion and Flooding
  • Alteration of Ocean pH Level
  • Increase in Atmospheric CO2
  • Reduction in Atmospheric Humidity
  • A decline in Quality of Life
  • Environmental Refugees
  • Outbreak of Diseases

1. Loss of Employment

The formal forest sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world while the informal sector employs not less than  41 million people.

The effect of deforestation on the environment can be on the sources of employment of individuals working in any of these sectors. Those actively engaged in deforestation must have this at the back of their minds.

2. Loss of Woodfuel Energy

Wood energy is often the primary source of energy in rural settlements of underdeveloped and developing countries. In Africa, wood energy accounts for 27 percent of the total primary energy supply.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, it accounts for 13 percent of the energy supply and 5 percent in Asia and Oceania. About 2.4 billion people cook with woodfuel,

Wood energy is also used in developed countries to reduce their total dependence on fossil fuels. About 90 million residents of Europe and North American countries use it for indoor heaters during the cold seasons.

Unsustainable use of forest wood results in the loss of forest wood fuel. This in turn increases demand for fossil fuels as energy sources.

3. Loss of Shelter Materials

About 1 billion in Asia and Oceania and 150 million in Africa live in homes where forest products are the main materials used for walls, roofs, or floors.

Since forest products are important shelter materials, continuous use of these materials without accompanying replenishment will result in a gradual decline in supply and eventually total loss.

4. Loss of Income from Payments for Environmental Services (PES)

In some places, forest owners or managers are paid for the production of environmental services such as watershed protection, carbon storage, or habitat conservation. When these forests are lost to deforestation, the income that should be generated from payments for environmental services (PES) will equally be lost.

5. Loss of Income from the Production of Non-Wood Forest Products

Non-Wood Forest Products are products derived from forests aside from trees and their products. Examples of NWFPs are medicinal plants; bushmeat or game, honey; and other plants.

Asia and Oceania generate  (US$67.4 billion or 77 percent of the total) from NWFPs. Following this, Europe and Africa have the next highest levels of income generation from these activities.

Compared to the other activities in the forest sector, income from the production of NWFPs makes the greatest additional contribution to GDP in Asia and Oceania and in Africa where they account for 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent of GDP respectively.

6. Loss of Habitat and Biodiversity

Nature has its way of balancing loss and gain of its resources. When animals die, nature can regenerate itself and balance its deaths with reproduction. However, when there is interference from human activities such as exhaustive hunting of forest wildlife and uncontrolled logging. These activities can reduce those species necessary for forest continuance and regeneration.

About 70% of land animals and plant species have been lost as an effect of deforestation on the environment. In Central Africa, the loss of species like gorillas, chimps, and elephants is attributed to the effects of deforestation on the environment.  Between 1978-1988, an annual loss of American migratory birds increased from 1-3 percent.

Loss of these forest species is a result of land clearing, logging, hunting all of which are equal to deforestation.

When deforestation causes erosion, eroded materials flow into water bodies where they gradually build up as sediments. This leads to a condition known as siltation. The increased sediment load of rivers smothers fish eggs, causing lower hatch rates. As the suspended particles reach the ocean, they pollute the ocean and it becomes cloudy, causing regional declines in coral reefs, and affecting coastal fisheries.

Coral reefs are referred to as the rainforests of the sea. When they are lost, all services provided by them are lost. Siltation and loss of coral reefs affect coastal fisheries as well.

7. Loss of Renewable Resources

Destruction of renewable resources is an effect of deforestation on the environment. This includes loss of  valuable productive land, loss of trees, and aesthetic features of forests

In theory, logging can be a sustainable activity, generating an ongoing source of revenue without diminishing the resource base—especially in secondary forests and plantations.

However, most rainforest logging is not sustainable in practice, they rather reduce the potential revenue for tropical countries in the long term. In places like Southeast Asia and West Africa where wood was once exported, the value of their forests has decreased due to overexploitation.

The World Bank estimates that governments lose about US$5 billion in revenues annually as a result of illegal logging while overall losses to the national economies of timber-producing countries add up to an additional US$10 billion per year.

As forest trees are lost to logging, ecotourism also suffers from deforestation. The tourism market brings in tens of billions of dollars annually to tropical countries around the world.

Notably, virtually every country or region that has undergone economic development has experienced high rates of deforestation during the economic transition. Fortunately, once a national economy reaches a certain level of economic development, most countries have been successful in halting or reversing deforestation. SOFO 2012

8. Soil Erosion and Flooding

One of the importance of trees in forests is that they bind soil surfaces together by anchoring the soil with their roots. When these trees are uprooted, the soil is broken up and its particles become loosely bound. With the soil particles loosely bound, eroding agents such as wind, water or ice can easily wash away the large mass of soil, leading to soil erosion.

Short periods of intensive precipitation will also result in flooding. Both flooding and erosion wash away soil organic matter and minerals. This renders the soil infertile and reduces crop yield.

Countries like Madagascar and Costa Rica lose about 400 tons/ha and 860 million tons of valuable topsoil to erosion every year.

According to a study in  Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire),  forested slope areas lost 0.03 tons of soil per hectare; cultivated slopes lost 90 tons per hectare, while bare slopes lost 138 tons per hectare annually.

Besides damaging the fisheries industry, deforestation-induced erosion can undermine roads and highways that cross through the forest.

When forest cover is lost, runoff rapidly flows into streams, elevating river levels and subjecting downstream villages, cities, and agricultural fields to flooding, especially during the rainy season.

9. Alteration of Ocean pH Level

One of the effects of deforestation on the environment is a change in the pH level of oceans. Deforestation increases the level of Carbon IV oxide in the atmosphere. This atmospheric CO2 undergoes certain reactions to form carbonic acids in the oceans.

Since the Industrial Revolution, beaches have become 30 percent more acidic. This acidic condition is toxic to the ecosystem and aquatic organisms.

10. Increase in Atmospheric CO2

According to WWF, tropical forests hold more than 210 gigatons of carbon. Forests play an important role in carbon sequestration.  They are the lungs of the earth and are characterized by heavy vegetation. These trees use up atmospheric CO2 to release Oxygen.

Deforestation is irresponsible for 10-15% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. . It leads to an imbalance in the atmospheric temperature and drier climate,

The burning of forests as land clearing releases carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas because it persists in the atmosphere. It also  has the potential to alter global climate

11. Reduction in Atmospheric Humidity

Forest vegetation releases water vapor from its leaves during evapotranspiration. This regulating feature of tropical rainforests can help moderate destructive flood and drought cycles that can occur when forests are cleared. They help regulate the water cycle.

In the water cycle, moisture is transpired and evaporated into the atmosphere, forming rain clouds before being precipitated as rain back onto the forest. 50-80 percent of the moisture in the central and western Amazon remains in the ecosystem water cycle.

When this vegetation is cleared, it results in a drop in atmospheric humidity. This drop-in humidity means that there will be less water in the air to be returned to the soil. The soils begin to dry up and lose their ability to grow certain plants. It also increases the risk of forest fires.

An example is the 1997 and 1998 fires caused by dry conditions created by el Niño. Millions of acres burned as the fire swept through Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Central America, Florida, and other places.

12. Decline in Quality of Life

Participants of the 1998 global climate treaty conference in Buenos Aires, raised concerns based on previous studies at the  Institute of Ecology in Edinburgh that the Amazon rainforest could be lost in 50 years due to shifts in rainfall patterns induced by global warming and land conversion.

This will eventually result in food insecurity as millions of people globally depend on forests for hunting, small-scale agriculture, gathering, medicine, and everyday materials such as latex, cork, fruit, nuts, natural oils, and resins. These people also depend on food from forests, and from trees located outside forests, to increase the nutritional quality and diversity of their diets.

Deforestation also contributes to social conflict and migration in areas like Southeast Asia.

The effects of deforestation on the environment are felt more at the local level with the loss of ecological services provided by tropical rainforests and related ecosystems.

These habitats provide humans a wealth of services; services that the poor directly depend on for their everyday survival. These services include but are not limited to erosion prevention, flood control, water filtration, fisheries protection, and pollination.

In the long run, deforestation of tropical rainforests can alter the global climate and biodiversity. These changes make it difficult and more challenging to observe and forecast weather from local effects since they take place over a longer time scale and can be difficult to measure.

13. Environmental Refugees

Among the effects of deforestation on the environment is that it can leave people as “environmental refugees”—people who are displaced due to environmental degradation,

Deforestation triggers other environmental problems such as desert encroachment, wildfires, flooding, etc. These conditions drive people away from their homes into places where they are subjected to unfavorable living conditions.

An instance is in Brazil where migrants were forced to work in plantations under harsh working conditions. Red Cross research shows more people are now displaced by environmental disasters than by war.

14. Outbreak of Diseases

A lot of tropical diseases have emerged as an effect of deforestation on the environment.

Some of these diseases break out as direct effects while others are indirect effects of deforestation on the environment. Diseases like ebola and Lassa fever, are a subtle but serious impact on deforestation. As the primary hosts of pathogens causing these diseases are eliminated or reduced through forest disturbance and degradation, the disease can break out among humans living around.

Other diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, cholera, and snail-borne schistosomiasis have escalated because of the proliferation of artificial pools of water like dams, rice paddies, drainage ditches, irrigation canals, and puddles created by tractor treads.

The outbreak of disease as an effect of deforestation in the tropical environment does not affect only the people residing in those countries. As some of these diseases are communicable, they can be incubated for a time long enough to allow penetration into the temperate developed countries.

An infected patient from Central Africa can infect a person in London within 10 hours. All he needs to do is board a flight to London. With this, thousands of persons can become infected by contact with that one patient from Central Africa.


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