According to a study by the University of Waterloo, deforestation rates in war zones increase dramatically once peace is declared.
The study, by Simron Singh, a researcher at the University of Vermont’s School of Environment and Nelson Grima, looked at data from conflict zones around the world, with a particular focus on Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast and Peru.
The study found that in the years after the fighting ended in these countries, they found that deforestation had increased at a rate of around 68%. In comparison, the global average rate of deforestation is 7.2%.
“We don’t want people to think that we support gun violence in any way,” Singh says. “But our findings show that when the fighting stops, a number of factors lead to an increase in the rate of deforestation.”
Forests and jungles provide what researchers call ecosystem services. This includes benefits such as carbon sequestration, food and fiber supply, pollination and more. Deforestation hampers the provision of these services.
The researchers concluded that in times of war, forests are used as cover for guerrilla fighting and isolated bases. As such, they become dangerous and few people bother them if they are not involved in combat. Moreover, they are neither exploited nor hunted. However, when the fighting stops, reconstruction efforts often require resources, and forests provide enough materials and opportunities to help rebuild an economy and a society. Additionally, there is often political instability and weak policy implementation, allowing for uncontrolled exploitation.
“The goal of ecosystem services in any environment, peaceful or not, is responsible stewardship,” Singh says. “Armed conflict is unfortunately part of our world. Understanding the role forests play during and after armed violence will help to better govern and manage our resources in all circumstances. Horrific as they are.”