Rainforest Deforestation More Than Doubles With Coronavirus Pandemic

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A deforested area.
Photo: Dave Herring / Unsplash

Deforestation around the world surged by 150 percent in March 2020, compared with the average percentage of the same period from 2017 to 2019, while the coronavirus epidemic was taking the world by storm, a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has revealed.

Approximately 2,510 square miles (6,500 square kilometers) of tropical rainforests were destroyed in March alone. 

The research is based on satellite data belonging to 18 countries in Africa, Asia and South America, put together by the University of Maryland on its Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) database.

The WWF Germany’s analysis concluded that criminal groups are taking advantage of the pandemic for illegal timber trade and that people becoming unemployed due to the crisis are now resorting to forests.

“Many people returned from the cities to their home villages during the crisis and are now increasingly using the forest as a wood and income resource,” the report says, adding that the losses are almost always man-made, since even fires are almost always due to human actions.

Christoph Heinrich, the head of nature conservation with WWF Germany, called the alarming increase in the rates of deforestation “a coronavirus effect.”

Indonesia’s forests have been affected most severely by deforestation in March, with more than 501.9 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) lost — an increase of 130 percent compared to the past three years. Myanmar shares the same percentage with Indonesia, while the figure is 190 percent in Cambodia.

Other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand also recorded significantly higher forest loss in March 2020 than in 2018 and 2019. In Malaysia, deforestation increased by almost 70 percent in March 2020. The losses in Thailand have more than quadrupled.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had the second-largest forest loss with 386.102 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) followed by Brazil with 366 square miles (950 square kilometers). Brazil also saw a rise of 171 percent in April this year, compared to 2019, according to the Brazilian non-profit Imazon.

The losses are highest in South America with an increase of around 167 percent, including Brazil and Argentina.

Urging governments to take immediate action, WWF Germany emphasized in its report that stopping deforestation will significantly reduce the risk of further worse pandemics, citing a Scientific American article that suggests “destroying habitats makes viruses and other pathogens more likely to infect humans.”

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