05/04/2013, 00.00
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WWF warns: Mekong forests endangered

Agriculture and trade in illegal timber has stripped a third of the forest area. From 1973 to 2009 between 22 and 24% of the total forest lost, endangering habitat of tigers and elephants, increasingly threatened with extinction. Dams on the river, including the mega-central Xayaburi compounding the problem.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The increasing demand for agricultural land in the Greater Mekong could lead, within the next two decades, to the destruction of over a third of forest cover. The alarm bells are being sounded by experts and environmentalists of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), which is appealing to the governments of the region to promote sustainable policies in an area already marked by an extensive exploitation that has challenged flora and fauna. The report denounces the growing deforestation in favor of rubber and rice plantations, which together with the illegal logging has led to the decimation of several protected areas.

Peter Cutter, a member of the WWF, confirms that "the Greater Mekong is at a crossroads" and added that Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have lost between 22 and 24% of the total forest cover between 1973 and 2009. Thailand and Vietnam have been looted of about 43% of their forest area.

Even Myanmar, a rapidly developing nation after decades of military dictatorship, is near the "threshold of deforestation", especially along the border areas. For this reason from next year the Burmese government has introduced a limit on exports in an attempt to stem the flow.

The WWF warns that, if deforestation is not stopped then by 2030 at least 34% of the remaining forests "will be progressively lost and fragmented." This would leave on 14% of the total forest cover, endangering the natural habitat of elephants and tigers and their very survival.

Finally, the construction of dams and hydroelectric power plants along the river is further compounding problems. The Xayaburi dam in Laos, a 3.8 billion dollar project, has long been the source of massive controversy.  Environmentalists say the project is a "serious threat" to the ecosystem, with "devastating effects" on the entire region and its 60 million inhabitants. According to plans it should be completed and become operational within the next five years, although it has already been a source of fierce controversy among the nations of the lower Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand).


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