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Expert warns: If trees are not planted, two billion people will suffer from water shortage

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The Dean for the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the Fourah Bay College, Dr. A.D. Karim has stated that if the persistent habit of cutting trees especially in the Western Area is not stopped, Sierra Leone will be part of the two billion people that will suffer from the acute shortage of water by 2050.

Expert warns: If trees are not planted, two billion people will suffer from water shortage

Expert warns: If trees are not planted, two billion people will suffer from water shortage

The Dean of Faculty was briefing environmental journalists at his office recently when spoke about the significance of trees to human beings and expressed dissatisfaction about the manner in which people have deforested the Botanical Reserve of the University. Dr. Karim also reflected on the importance of the Botanical Reserve to the students of the university but commented that for the fact that there is extinction, students can no longer gain better resource.

The Head of the Faculty noted that there was an endemic fog that used to be in the Botanical Reserve but this fog can no longer be found at the botany due to consistent deforestation. He also made known that there was a perennial stream that don’t dry which passes through the botany reserve, to the Bambrace stream and empties at the Mabela community.

Dr. Karim lectured the journalists on the fact that natural environment is a valuable resource for human existence and that majority of people on the surface of the earth hardly appreciate the aesthetic value of the land on which they live or even realize that it is a great resource. He noted that they even fail to take cognizance of the fact that the various components of these resources when exploited beyond a certain limit can lead to its total destruction.

Deforestation is one of the greatest environmental hazards resulting from diverse human activity thereby upsetting the entire ecosystem with resultant consequences. “The tropical rainforest is unique because it is very rich in species and diversity. The physiognomy is determined by climatic and edaphic factors” he said. Mr. Karim intimated that the problem of deforestation is a global issue as it is of a major concern to both national governments and international organizations but that awareness has now been created apart from other environmental problems like pollution and other natural hazards, making it to be known that deforestation is indeed a great environmental problem especially with respect to water resources.

The importance of the Forest can be environmental or Socio-economic. The environmental importance includes the impact of the tropical forest on precipitation, oxygen production and CO2 balance in the atmosphere. He explained that trees take up large quantities of water that are released into the air as vapour. The tree crowns intercept rain and nutrients, and the lateral roots, which may extend for up to 100m, absorb components of the decomposing forest litter and limit leaching of the soil by heavy rains. In addition, he said tap root penetrate to depths of up to 30m or more and are able to retrieve water and dissolved minerals. There could be a small increase in condensation on leaves of forest compared with grasslands and this condensation could run and drip down to the soil forest and moderate the global climate.

Dr. Karim also said that trees reduce and even out the temperatures near the forest floor, and provide shade for man and animals from the tropical sun. “Their demands on water supplies are lessened; water is often crucial for survival. By 2050, two billion people, or 20 percent of the world’s population, will suffer from water shortages”, he stated.

Dr. Karim also stated that the conservation of forest resources in the watersheds that supply water for irrigation, sanitation and human consumption is an important component of water supply strategies and that when tropical watersheds balanced the forest absorbs excessive rainfall that is gradually released later. Forest regulates stream flows by intercepting rainfall, absorbing the water into the underlying soil, and gradually releasing it into the streams and rivers of its watershed.

“Tree cover conserves moisture in the soil by providing shade that reduces the evaporative loss due to radiant energy exchange with the atmosphere”, he added. He also noted that trees act as wind brakes, reducing the force of desiccating, eroding winds at ground level and lessening the harmful effect on plant life and reduce dust storms.

The roots, he said, enhance soil porosity, reduce compaction and facilitate infiltration and added that water shortage is a major health risk in terms of inadequate sewage disposal, poor personal hygiene, and insufficient potable water.

Food security also he noted is threatened as irrigation water becomes scarcer and said that without the protection of the tree cover, soils are exposed to the rigors of severe tropical climates and are rapidly eroded. Fresh water and coastal fisheries are devastated by the high sedimentation loads carried by the rivers, as are wildlife rich wetlands.  Sedimentation from degraded water sheds is also one of the principal causes for the decline of coastal coral reefs.

Dr. Karim intimated that climate, land form, and other environmental factors added will influence the productivity of the tropical forest at times in much unexpected ways and that there is a limit to the rate of tree growth as air temperature increase but that when the temperature exceeds 300 C, growth processes become essentially inactive in the same way as when temperatures are below freezing.

He made known that deforestation is an important contributing factor to global warming. It is estimated that 6,000 million tons of carbon are discharged from the atmosphere by burning fossils and an additional 2,000 million tons of about 25 percent of the total CO2 emissions are a consequence of deforestation and forest fires.

On the side of the socio economic Importance of Forest, Dr. Karim said forests serve as dwelling places, wood products, non-wood and medicinal purposes.

The most important properties of the earth’s surface which influence climate and which also can be influenced by human  activities include reflectivity, heat capacity and conductivity, availability of water and dust, aerodynamic roughness, emissivity in the infra-red band and heat released to the ground.

Dr. Karim forests have a high capacity to absorb large amounts of heat, forests have low heat conductivity, because their thick and complex structure prevents rapid cooling or heating and regulates the heat released to the ground, forest assist in the global cycling of water, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and one of the main importance of the forest is water regulation.

He also stressed that forests give stability to hydrological systems, reducing the severity of floods and permitting the recharging of springs, stream and underground waters, noting that forests regulate water supplies by restricting run-off during peak periods, and releasing water through springs and rivers during the dry season.

He added that trees keep soil from washing off mountain sides and sand from blowing off deserts, they keep sediments out of rivers and reservoirs and if properly placed, will help to hold top solid on agricultural fields. Also noted that forests can act as wind breaks, and this creates aerodynamic roughness and assist in arresting dust particles.

Forest, Dr. Karim said are one of the climatic buffers on which mankind depends, a buffer which, because of its complex organic structure, is able to withstand somewhat severe perturbations of its physical environment, provided that the changes and stresses to which it is subjected are not pushed beyond a certain threshold.

He made known that forests house millions of plants and animal species that will disappear if the woodlands are destroyed, adding that the presence of forests in critical areas reduces the possibility of the siltation of rivers and of reservoirs, effectively prevents the  denudation of countryside, and contributes significantly to economic activities in the valleys beneath and adjacent to them.

Dr. Karim however noted that cultural and social habits are changing the value of trees in that packaged condiments and polluted vitamins now replace those trees and vegetables, just as pills replace medicine from the tree bank and leaves.

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