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NICARAGUA: A Green Crusade for Water

José Adán Silva* - Tierramérica

MANAGUA, Aug 17 2007 (IPS) - The Nicaraguan government launched a national campaign to reforest 60,000 hectares per year as part of an effort to recover 18 rivers lost as a result of uncontrolled logging.

The National Reforestation Campaign was officially announced in June and got under way in July in several municipalities of Managua, largely along the rivers and lakes that have been polluted by garbage and sewage from the capital.

The annual reforestation goal will last until 2012 and will involve city governments, primary and secondary school students, environmental volunteers, and members of Nicaragua’s police and military forces, said William Schwartz, director of the government’s national forestry institute, INAFOR.

More than 210 tree species will be planted, depending on the climate and soil type of each area, according to INAFOR’s municipal development office. For example, in the cooler northern part of the country, pines will be planted, and, in the warmer central region it will be broad-leafed trees.

This “green crusade” will be carried out with INAFOR’s budget for this year – some eight million dollars.

The plan has the backing of President Daniel Ortega and support from the ministries of agriculture and natural resources, as well as the Rural Development Institute and the National Assembly’s Environment Commission, said Schwartz.

As of August, the number of trees planted surpassed 300,000 along the Pacific coast and in the central region, according to the Forestry Development Office.

Mario García, a technician with that office, said the priority areas are the source areas of the 18 rivers that disappeared, in the western departments (provinces) of León, Chinandega, Matagalpa, Estelí and Jinotega.

Forests play a crucial role in recharging rivers and lakes, capturing rainwater and filtering it to underground water layers and aquifers, which feed the surface bodies of water.

“Planting a tree simply for the sake of planting a tree is not beneficial if it is not accompanied by another purpose, such as recuperating the sources of water that the Nicaraguan population needs so much,” said García.

The official explained that this campaign encompasses another goal: educating peasant farmers, or campesinos, and ranchers to change their usual practice of burning off forested areas and to use more sustainable methods to irrigate their land.

Independent ecologist Kamilo Lara told Tierramérica that although the crusade is laudable, its success will depend on the government obtaining support from the country’s 153 municipal governments, 58 of which are in the power of the opposition Liberal Constitutionalist Party.

“The municipal governments are a good hook for the campaign’s effectiveness, but if it is not done directly with the communities, the campaign won’t produce the desired results,” commented Lara.

According to Environment Ministry data, in 1950, forest covered approximately eight million hectares of Nicaraguan territory. Today, forested area has fallen to three million hectares, and continues to decline.

The national reforestation crusade “is a race against time,” warns Schwartz.

Government statistics state that nearly 70,000 hectares are deforested illegally each year. “At this rate, if we don’t find a way to halt this activity, in 40 years Nicaragua will have turned into a desert,” said the INAFOR director.

President Ortega ordered the army to step up vigilance along highways to and from the forested regions, mainly the protected areas of Bosawa, in the north, and the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, in the south.

The president said that traffickers in precious wood operate in those areas, cutting down the trees and illegally channelling it to Honduras and Costa Rica.

In June 2006, the government decreed the Forestry Ban Act, putting a 10-year prohibition on selling cedar (Cedrela odorata), pochote (Bombacopsis quinata), pine (Pinaceae), mangrove (Rhizophoraceae) and cockspur coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli).

Natural resources management expert Guillermo Bendaña García told Tierramérica that Schwartz’s grave warning about the future “is not extremist,” adding, “It’s closer to reality than we would imagine.”

Bendaña, author of the book “Global Ecological Problems: The Beginning of the End of the Human Species?”, said the pace of environmental destruction in Central America could leave the isthmus without freshwater in less than 30 years.

An independent forestry assessment conducted between August 2006 and March 2007 by the Global Witness group, maintains that Nicaragua is losing between 70,000 and 180,000 hectares of forest each year, and with it, access to water sources for human consumption is deteriorating.

The 2007 Human Development Report, presented in June by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), says that more than 70 percent of Nicaragua’s 5.1 million people lack access to potable water.

(*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)

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