The world has become predominantly urban. The State of the World Population 2007 report, released by the United Nations six years ago, estimated that more than half of the world’s population would have lived in cities and towns by the following year. Since then, urban areas have continued to grow in both developed and developing countries. Today, the latter ones are still on the way to completely shift from rural to urban, however, it is reported that in the future more than 90% of the urban population growth will be concentrated in the large cities of the developing world.
In particular, during the last two decades, Africa has recorded the highest urban growth and this trend is supposed to continue until 2050. In fact, the urban population in Africa is expected to rise at 750 million in 2030, more than double the population reported in 2000 which amounted to 300 million, with a land cover increase predicted to be the highest in the world considering the history of low-density settlement in the continent. Furthermore, the rise of the urban dweller is supposed to have remarkable implications on biodiversity and on many ecosystem services like crops, seafood, and water. Cities’ growth will heavily draw on natural resources leading to a shortage of them, in particular water, and to environmental degradation.
In light of the above, we could say that the demographic problem of our time is not the global population growth – that actually has started to slow – but the phenomenon of urbanization which is mainly increasing in those prominent areas that are worldwide known for their precious natural resources. This is the case of the Congo Basin where the rising demand for mineral and wood resources is threatening millions of hectares of rainforests. Apparently, awareness of this environmental risk in Central Africa arose far before a viable scientific information mechanism was set up to control and monitor the soil exploitation, but it was only from 2006 onwards that some practical efforts were put in place thanks to the biannual publication of The Forests of the Congo Basin: State of the Forest report. This document, that provides an updated assessment of the state of the forest, has been and continues to be very useful in guiding effective strategy development.
Unfortunately, despite the remarkable improvements achieved – since now, 5 million hectares have been certified for sustainable forest management said Richard Eba'a Atyi, coordinator for Central Africa at the Centre for International Forestry Research – much still has to be done in order to improve the rainforest monitoring system. The above-mentioned case study is an example to show that there exist some successful achievements in the protection of our rainforests and that these need to be strengthen in order to limit the damaging actions driven by opposite interests. In particular, what needs to be considered, is that the rural-urban migration has contributed to increase the number of people demanding for food and living far from where it is produced. As a consequence, subsistence farmers that produce for their own consumption are disappearing. In their place, the global market trends are now driving the decision-makers of many enterprises that aim to satisfy the global demand for food with poor attention to the consequences of deforestation.
This doesn’t mean that efforts to protect our forests are useless. On the contrary, it is important to keep on working towards this direction and to make people aware of this issue as much as possible bearing in mind that tropical forests can help to prevent both floods and droughts by regulating regional rainfall.