Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox

Forestry Responses to Natural and Human-conflict Disasters

This module examines the role of forestry in mitigating natural and human-conflict disasters, and forest-related responses that might assist communities and ecosystems to recover in the wake of disasters in the short and longer terms. 

Forestry responses to natural and human-conflict disasters contributes to SDGs:

Forestry and disasters

Disasters caused by extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, storms, floods, hurricanes and cyclones), other natural phenomena (e.g. fire, outbreaks of animal and plant pests, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions) and human conflicts (e.g. civil unrest and armed conflicts that displace people) may result in forest degradation and deforestation. Inevitably, such disasters disrupt the supply of forest products and environmental services, threatening the subsistence and livelihoods of local communities and forest industries. They can trigger unprecedented pressure on forests, with survivors and displaced people forced to forage in residual forests for food, timber, woodfuel, fibre, fodder and other products, or to occupy the forests and clear them for agriculture.

Forests that have been destroyed or seriously damaged by disasters may suffer secondary impacts, such as pest outbreaks, wildfire and erosion. These can delay forest recovery and cause the further deterioration of the livelihoods and food security of forest-dependent people. The loss or damage of forest and tree resources can lead to the degradation of soil and water resources, with the potential for negative effects on downstream agricultural and fishery production and consequently on the livelihoods of communities.

On the other hand, forests can be lifesaving resources during and after disasters, providing food, timber for rebuilding, woodfuel, medicines, and a means by which affected people can obtain their livelihoods.

Well-managed forests and trees can reduce the impacts of disasters. In steep lands, for example, well-managed forests can reduce soil erosion caused by flooding and, in some cases, avert landslides (see module on Mountain Forests). Mangroves and other coastal forests can reduce the damage caused by storm surges and tsunamis, and well-managed lands and forests can decrease the risk of wildfire.

When the damage to forests as a result of a disaster is severe, the negative impacts can be long-lasting because of the lengthy timeframes generally involved in forest recovery. Forest-dependent communities may need assistance in preparing for disasters and in recovering from them when they occur, taking into account long-term factors.

The challenge for forest managers is to implement sustainable forest management so that, in the face of disaster, forests are best-placed to mitigate impacts, contribute to relief aid and rebuilding, and prevent future disasters, thus contributing to community resilience.

Impacts of disasters on forests and people

Impacts of disasters on forests and people

The potential impacts of disasters on forests and forest-dependent communities include:

  • disrupted supplies of timber, woodfuel, fibre and non-wood forest products, with consequent negative impacts on the availability of forest products for reconstruction, heating, cooking, fodder, medicines, etc., and the potential to earn livelihoods from such products;
  • disrupted or destroyed forest-based livelihoods;
  • damaged production facilities (e.g. nurseries, sawmills and processing plants);
  • blocked transport routes and facilities, reducing the ability of forest-based enterprises to get their products to market;
  • increased erosion and soil loss, thereby reducing productivity in the agriculture and forest sectors and decreasing water quality;
  • increased vulnerability to flooding and landslides in fragile watersheds;
  • the depletion of forest carbon sinks, thus releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; and
  • increased vulnerability to further disasters and conflicts due to the loss of forest functions.