Snow and sleet last January caused the biggest extreme weather disaster south China has ever seen, in the process causing massive damage to China's forests. Trees hundreds of years old collapsed and large numbers of wildlife perished. Thick forests succumbed like matchsticks as nature wreaked havoc. The result is a life-and-death test for south China's forest ecosystem.
According to statistics from the State Forestry Administration, 10 percent of the country's forest areas were subject to the snow disaster, amounting to 18.6 million hectares, equal to the total tree-planting area added in five years. As the disaster-stricken areas provide the best environment for tree growing and also the best forest resources in the country, the loss resulting from the snow disaster has made it much more difficult for China to reach its goal of increasing the country' forest coverage rate by 20 percent in 2010.
Over 50 percent of local income in these ravaged areas depend on the forest and agricultural sector, so foresters' livelihood will be seriously affected. As the timber production cycle is longer than that of other sectors, the disaster will not only sharply reduce foresters' earnings in 2008 but also in the following 3 to 5 years.
The short term will also see a drop in timber supply, which will further widen the existing gap between supply and demand and force some businesses involved in the forestry sector to shut down.
In the past 30 years, thanks to tree planting, natural forest protection and "grain-to-green" projects, forests have greatly increased. The past three decades have seen China's forests grow from 134 million hectares in 1978 to the current 175 million hectares, with the forest coverage rate jumping by 18.21 percent.
The expanding forests are able to absorb more amounts of carbon dioxide: In 1990, the country's forests absorbed about 470 million tons of carbon dioxide every year and now the amount is calculated at more than 500 million tons, accounting for over 8 percent of the total greenhouse gas emission throughout China every year. Apart from a series of measures to accelerate tree planting and improve forest quality, the Chinese Government is also developing marsh gas so as to use forest resources in a more effective way.
Apart from a direct economic loss of almost $8.1 billion in terms of the forestry sector, the snow disaster at the beginning of 2008 also caused major damage to the ecosystem in south China, severely reversing the good work done by China to maintain an ecological balance and relieve the greenhouse effect in the past years.
Faced with a severe situation, forestry departments at various levels are taking action to organize reforestation initiatives and to maintain social stability in forest regions as life returns to normal. Programs on scientific assessment of snow disaster-stricken areas as well as policy formulation on ecological rehabilitation are being gradually launched, with a view to heal the forests in south China in 2008.