Unfortunately, Nicaragua is being deforested at an astounding rate. Nicaragua has lost approximately fifty percent of its forest cover since 1950, and today deforestation is spiraling out of control. The claim is frequently cited that if current rates of deforestation are allowed to continue or worsen, Nicaragua stands to lose its remaining rainforest within 10-15 years. This human and ecological crisis necessitates an immediate international response.
The conversion of forests to agricultural land and commercial logging are two leading causes of deforestation in Nicaragua. Much of Nicaragua's deforestation is concentrated along the nation's 'agricultural frontier,' a north-south line that extends across the country and is moving eastward. Along this frontier, forests are continually being burned or cut in order to clear the land for agriculture. Commercial forestry is another significant factor in Nicaragua's high deforestation rate. Throughout much of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast region, commercial logging is being conducted with little governmental regulation. In many cases, commercial forestry occurs along the agricultural frontier, and the roads created by logging operations are used by settlers as entry ways for colonization of a new area.
The fate of Nicaragua's people and its forests are inextricably intertwined. The results of deforestation include climatic changes, droughts and drinking water shortages, flooding, soil erosion, crop losses and malnutrition, fuelwood shortages, destruction of marine resources, and ultimately, increased poverty and potential for military conflicts. Deforestation in Nicaragua is not only an environmental issue, but also an urgent social issue. The damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua in 1998 was greatly exacerbated by previous deforestation. The severe floods and landslides in both Honduras and Nicaragua occurred mainly in regions with steep slopes that had been denuded of their forest cover. Also, as is true in other parts of the world, many of Nicaragua's indigenous peoples live in the nation's remaining rainforests. Thus, the protection of Nicaragua's forests is also a matter of cultural survival.
Adapted from 'Protecting Nicaragua's Forests' by Jerry Mueller, courtesy of NicaNet, The Nicaragua Network.