Thousands of Lives Lost to Deforestation

by Michelle Scheeland

Deforestation has been an ongoing and growing global issue. While people view tearing down forests as a vehicle to obtaining money, crops, houses, paper, and power, they neglect to fully comprehend the devastating geological ramifications of their actions. Oftentimes, people learn about some of the negative impacts deforestation has on the environment, but so much of the effects it has either does not directly affect humans or will not affect humans in the immediate future. But deforestation has been the catalyst in thousands of deaths.

According to National Geographic, deforestation destroys animal homes as eighty percent of land animals live in these forests. Further, deforestation affects climate change as trees absorb greenhouse gasses and they perpetuate the water cycle in forest areas. The roots of trees and other plants help to prevent ground erosion; which, directly affects people now and has for years. Moreover, landslides and mudslides from unstable land have killed thousands of people for years, despite warnings from environmentalists.

On August 14, 2017, in Sierra Leone, at least 500 lives were lost to a mudslide just outside of Freetown, the country’s capital. Over a quarter of those lives lost were children. It is suspected that 810 people are still missing and there may be more. The mudslide has affected at approximately 6,000 people, however, as homes and loved ones were lost. The mudslide resulted from a combination of heavy rain fall and unregulated construction on the hillside where uprooting trees had created unstable soil. This is not the first time Sierra Leone has endured many deaths from flooding; however, not much, if anything has been done to remedy the situation given that it is one of the poorest countries in Africa. It is still trying to find its feet after its ten-year civil war between 1991-2001 as well as figure out how to balance ecological and population needs.

In July of 2014, a landslide killed around 30 people and trapped another 200 in Pune, India. Satish Thigale, an Environmentalist who formerly headed the Geology department of Pune University stated, “a large-scale deforestation had made the place vulnerable”. Another environmentalist, Sumaira Abdulali, believes the root of the problem of the landslide is the stone quarrying, as the cutting of trees and stone is leaving nothing to hold the soil together. Rescue efforts were especially difficult due to the large numbers of hills in the region surrounding the survivors.

Another devastating deforestation related landslide, August 13, 2010, 1,156 lives were lost and nearly 600 people went missing in North-West China. It began with a mudslide that ravaged everything in its path and ended in the Bailong River creating a dam. The dam, in turn, caused the river to rise and flooded a nearby town. Additionally, roughly 20,000 people were negatively impacted by this two pronged disaster. In 2006, Lanzhou University issued a report cautioning the Chinese government about the threats created by the deforestation in Zhouqu. The University stated,

“The situation is the result of deforestation, exploitative mining activities, construction of hydroelectric power plants and other development activities.”

The ecological complications related to deforestation will continue to take countless lives until people come together and figure out a viable solution. The root systems of trees and other plants act as the glue that helps to prevent such devastating geological onslaughts from engulfing towns and villages. While re-planting is a great start, the trees cannot regrow as fast as they are being cut down so it is only a partial solution. While this is a global problem, each country that has been warned yet abdicated its responsibility is essentially responsible for the loss of life, land, and resources. So much of this destruction was proven preventable. It’s time to work together as a global community toward reducing the level of destruction caused by these natural disasters.

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