A terrible confusion
A new report of the uk's forestry research programme (frp) has stirred a hornet's nest. Called From the mountain to the tap , the report uses evidence from 12 countries to incriminate trees and forests for water shortages. Large scale afforestation and big irrigation schemes result in land use changes, which, in turn, affect the availability of both blue water (which flows to rivers and aquifers) and green water (which returns to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration), the study concludes.
While the culpability of large irrigation schemes for groundwater depletion is quite well known, heaping blame on afforestation projects is contentious. The report explains: "Large-scale afforestation schemes very often involve plantations of exotic and evergreen species.'
Here lies the catch The report uses "plantation' and "afforestation' interchangeably.For example, at one place it notes, "The assumption that large forestations should reverse agricultural decline and restore rural livelihoods is not always true. However, this belief is still in practice in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Himalaya, where indigenous people are displaced to make way for forest plantations run by large private firms (emphasis added)'. And this is not all: frp's press release to announce the report states, "Trees are overplayed as solutions to water problems'.
A gullible media lapped this up and added to the confusion. For example, the uk daily Telegraph noted, "Millions are wasted on trees that reduce water', while the New Scientist stated, "Planting trees may create deserts' (see