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The main objectives of this assessment were: (i) to provide reliable and regionally consistent information on the state of forests in developing countries in the Mediterranean zone in 1990 and the rates of change during the period 1981 to 1990 and (ii) to study the process of deforestation and forest degradation and their environmental implications.
The basic data for the assessment which covers 18 countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) were collected from bibliographical investigation, completed by two questionnaires, and missions of experts sent to five counties in the zone.
The statistical information on forest area cover - natural forest, other wooded land, plantations (afforestation and reforestation) - growing stock, and deforestation and forest degradation factors (human population, livestock, wood consumption, forest fires) were compiled and incorporated into the FAO database (FORIS - Forest Resources Information System). The collected data - at sub-national level whenever possible - were used to estimate forest cover area at the end of 1990 and the rates of change in the course of the 10 years from 1981 to 1990.
Statistical studies at sub-national level for the countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) showed certain correlations between the rate of forest cover, the bioclimatic zone and population density: the rate of forest cover is all the greater as the bioclimatic zone becomes more moist, and it is inversely proportional to population density. In addition, the correlation between the rate of forest cover and rural population density is higher in mountain moist forest zones.
The total natural forest area in the North African and Near East countries covered in the assessment was 5,655,000 ha and 3,339,000 ha, respectively, that is only 0.8 per cent of the total land area.
The annual rate of deforestation between 1981 and 1990 is -1.1 per cent (114,400 ha), and is thus higher than the rate in tropical countries (-0.8 per cent) over the same period.
Plantations have partially compensated for this deforestation with 104,000 ha planted annually between 1981 and 1990, an average annual growth rate of 6.4 per cent.
Deforestation and forest degradation are due to very strong demographic pressure -3 per cent average annual rate of population growth between 1981 and 1990 - to which one must add forest overgrazing and wood depletion (fuel wood, charcoal, construction wood) which exceed possible planting. The rate of depletion of forest resources frequently exceeds two or three times the forests' annual biological production capacity.
In order to check this process, only long term political decisions, taken with the accord of all forest resource users, will enable the current forest area (0.8 per cent of the total area of the lands) to be brought progressively back to its potential area (15 per cent), so that economic needs (reduced wood imports), environmental needs (preserving biodiversity, fighting erosion and desertification), and security of food supply may all be better served. Implementing the Mediterranean Forest Action Programme, the regional conceptual framework for national forestry planning and policies and for strengthening the support of international cooperation in this area, should contribute towards a progressive improvement in the region's forest resources.

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