Our growing population – the need for deforestation

~by: Jewel Philemon~

The 2010-2011 flash floods, which hit Singapore by surprise and took the lives of four, were, as everyone knows, caused by higher than average rainfall. But were these torrential downpours and chokes in drainage the only cause of flooding?

The answer could be an emphatic ‘No!’.

These abnormal floods were also caused by the deforestation of rainforests and mangroves which made up more than 80 per cent of the island, back in the 20th century.

Deforestation is the removal of forests to convert the land for a non-forest use. The main reasoning for this is that forests are not economically viable. Instead this ‘reclaimed’ land is used for many other purposes, varying from cattle ranching to mining.

Our neighbouring countries, like Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply over 80 per cent of the world’s palm oil, deforest to create space for palm oil plantations. Malaysia also practices deforestation as a means to clear land for shrimp farms.

While the central direct cause of deforestation around the world is considered to be for agricultural purposes, the purpose of deforestation in Singapore are mainly to cater to our growing population and to fill the rapidly growing need for more land for economic purposes.

Singapore’s accelerated growth in population has resulted in the conversion of forest areas to non-forest lands for settlement, urbanization and residential area expansion. Combined with this, road construction for infrastructure development, contributes heavily to deforestation in Singapore.

As a result, our metropolitan city has suffered a loss of at least 95 per cent of natural habitats in the last 183 years. “Only about 3 per cent of tropical rainforests and 1 per cent of mangroves, from the original 80 per cent of the forests, remain today,” reveals Dr Ho Hua Chew, Vice Chairman of The Singapore Nature Society’s conservation committee. “It is only a matter of time before biodiversity declines”, he adds.

But how is deforestation linked to the issue of flooding?

“The more greenery you have, the more it acts as a sponge,” says Dr Ho, “Nature actually prevents flooding because water is sinking into the ground. But, deforestation allows the absorbent soil to be washed away as there are no trees and roots to anchor it. Thus, the water cannot be absorbed, causing flooding”

However, flooding is only one of the effects of deforestation. Deforestation leads to a plethora of other problems such as the erosion of soils, reduced rainfall, warmer temperatures, an irreplaceable loss of wildlife, as well as changes in water cycles, heat balances and climate change.

“The government has done a bit by creating interim buffer areas like nature reserves and public parks, but it really is not enough.” shares Dr Ho.

Conservation proposals from conservation activists and advocates are often rejected by government officials largely due to the lack of popularity on the issue, Dr Ho observed.

“We should conserve whatever is left”, Dr Ho adds in suggesting that while many Singaporeans are interested in sustaining their local pockets of nature, the act of writing in to their local Members of Parliament will go a long way in helping to preserve the very little we have right now.

Dr Ho’s advocacy is simple, “Plant trees and preserve the pockets of wildlife around you. Write to your local authority and make a change!” He said that he cannot say this often enough to emphasise that woodlands are important in helping to control global warming, for the protection bio-diversity, to prevent flooding and in preserving natural air conditions.

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