Deforestation cause of devastating floods, UN says

The United Nations has said that deforestation may be one of the principal causes of the most severe floods to hit the Mekong delta in the last forty years.

Experts at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) claimed on 22 September as floods continued to devastate land and the lives of millions in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

ESCAP said that forest cover in affected countries has been reduced from about 70% of land area in 1945 to about 25% in 1995, which has coincided with ever worsening monsoon flooding. Other human factors blamed for this year’s catastrophic rains, which have made at least 140,000 homeless in Vietnam alone are: a reduction in river channels and drainage systems, the reclamation of floodplains and wetlands and a rapid expansion of urban and residential areas.

“The intensity of flood disasters appears to have increased in the (Asian) region in the past decade, especially during the past few years,” said ESCAP’s Executive Secretary Mr Kim Hak-Su, who revealed that the body has recently implemented a project to promote regional cooperation in flood control and management in Asia and the Pacific. The project called for governments to adopt “realistic” targets such as providing the infrastructure for 100% protection of residential areas by 2010 and the improvement of flood forecasting by 50% in agricultural areas by 2005.

On the same day, the United Nations World Food Programme (NWF) announced that it would give immediate food aid to some 40,000 of the worst-affected people in Vietnam, where at least 60 have already died as a direct result of the floods. The NWF estimated that this number constitutes about one-third of the total number of Vietnamese who desperately need food aid. A similar operation is underway in Cambodia.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has said that 600,000 people in the region who have lost their homes and farmland due to floods engulfing large areas across the region. This year’s all-important rice crops, for which the Mekong Delta is famous, have been completely destroyed.

A 1998 ESCAP regional survey identified floods as the most common disaster experienced in almost all of the countries surveyed. The floods in 1998 caused nearly 7,000 deaths, more than 6 million houses were damaged and nearly 25 million hectares of crops were destroyed in Bangladesh, China, India and Viet Nam. The total economic damage was estimated at US$23 billion.

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