2024 Int'l Day of Forests: Anambra sacrificing forest reserves for devt

2024 Int’l Day of Forests: Anambra sacrificing forest reserves for devt

March 21st of every year is designated all over the world as International Day of Forests. It is a global observance designed to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. The day has been celebrated since 2012 when it was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly.

This year’s theme, “Forests and innovation: New Solutions for a Better World”, underscores the essential role of technology and innovation play in preserving and safeguarding the forest ecosystems. The two have been found to have revolutionized forest monitoring, while boosting the capacity of countries to track and report on their forests more effectively. 

A total of 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide forest emission reductions or enhancements have been reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change through transparent and innovative forest monitoring.

For those who are familiar with the ugly realities around forests and forest reserves in Anambra State, this year’s theme is an apt and profound food for thought. The rate of deforestation going on across the nooks and crannies of the state calls for soul searching on a day like this. At a time that the present administration is encouraging massive tree planting, old and mature trees are being mindlessly cut down in forests across the state. More worrisome is the fact that the ill-wind does not spare the few government established forest reserves.  

While there are several reasons for deforestation, this piece pays a particular attention to development driven deforestation. Recalling the fate of Akpaka forest reserve in Onitsha is a sad reminder of the measure of disregard or ignorance about the significance of forests. Akpaka, which was formerly well-forested eventually lost all the attributes of a forest reserve due to years of deforestation. It is now a built up area with no semblance of a forest reserve, no thanks to unregulated human activities. 

As if that is not enough, Mamu Forest reserve, established in 1928 to fight the menace of erosion and reduce the destructive effects of climate change, is already on the way to Akpaka with massive deforestation following the sale of most part of it to developers. It was reliably gathered that only 18 of its 64 compartments are yet functional as forest reserve. Apart from the destructive impact of the development on the lives of humans and other organisms around the affected forests, it has equally been greeted with crisis leading to lingering law suit. 

Other forest reserves in the state are not shielded from deforestation. The Nkachu-Ituku forest reserve in Ebenebe, Osomalla forest reserve and the Achalla forest reserve are all being de-reserved without repealing the laws which established them. This in itself is a cause of for concern but more concerning is the fact that fingers have been pointed at some government functionaries as champions of deforestation. 

“We looked at the Forest cover over Anambra State over time from 1980 to 2020. We looked at the forest cover as at 1980 and the current forest cover in 2020 and we found that Anambra has lost 24% of its forest cover,” the Managing Director, Anambra State Erosion Watershed and Climate Change Agency, Professor Philip Phil-Eze, recently disclosed in an interview. 

According to the professor of Geography and Environmental Management, “the development has resulted to the sun heating directly on the soil, increased surface temperature and all these leading to global warming, which in turn leads to climate change”. 

The soaring rate of deforestation in the state has been blamed hugely on development pressure. Despite being the second smallest state in Nigeria with the landmass of 4,844 KM2, Anambra is fast urbanizing and developing at an alarming rate making it necessary to continue to expand into areas not habited before. But, experts have argued that its growing population does not justify the current rate of deforestation. 

One thing close watchers find equally disturbing is the fact that the deforestation in the state is happening at a time the current administration under Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo is notably championing a massive tree planting campaign with the distribution of economic trees of different species including palm trees, coconuts, bread fruits, pears etc. Undoubtedly, the disturbing rate of deforestation has called to question the genuineness of government’s intention to drastically cut down the rate and frequency at which forests are deforested across the state. 

While planting trees is a step in the right direction, those being planted now cannot immediately make up for the ones being massively lost to deforestation. It will take years of growth to reap their benefits. 

One other factor driving deforestation in the state is the lack of cooperation and coordination among relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. The MD of the State Climate Change Agency buttressed this. “This agency was established by law in 2020. We shall henceforth begin to apply the law. Unfortunately, many ministries, departments, and agencies which have things to do with the environment have not come to understand weighty impacts of deforestation.

“We will call a stakeholders meeting of all the line departments Ministries and agencies to harmonize and understand that we need to work in unison to achieve this purpose. There is this overlap of functions. 

“For instance, in the ministry of Environment where this agency belongs, each person is working independent of the other so there is no pooling of ideas together, harmonize it and move in the same direction to achieve a common goal. That has been a problem,” he said.

In line with the theme of this year’s International Day of Forests, it is expected that the relevant government ministries, departments and agencies will henceforth be innovative not only in managing and preserving the forest reserves but also the pressure caused by population growth and the size of its landmass. 

In an era of sustainable development, every development efforts must factor in sustainability which is key to the future. Anambra cannot afford to live its future today. Forest laws must be enforced while provisions that are outdated must be amended to make them fit for the time. 

Government must appreciate the importance of recruiting the manpower needed to keep its reserves protected from unlawful encroachment. Awareness campaign must be sustainably mounted to ensure that citizens understand the importance of preserving the forest no matter the pressure to deforest. Citizens with deep pockets must be properly advised not to deploy their wealth in a manner that can undermine human existence through mindless deforestation. 

The fight against deforestation must not be left for the government alone. Communities should key in by enacting bye laws for the preservation of their forests. Greater efforts must equally be made to ensure that the laws are strictly enforced.

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