What we’re reading: Hardships and hope in Peru; new research on forests and water

Palm swamp forest

Buritzal palm swamp forest in Peruvian Amazon. (© Amazon-Images/Alamy Stock Photo)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world.

  1. First, the bad news: Peru’s breakneck economic growth raises cost of catastrophe

The story: The South American country is “increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters as its population and infrastructure expand,” Bloomberg News reported. Record-breaking rains caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon are flooding coastal areas in Peru, washing away infrastructure. Peru’s growth has caused urban areas to expand, Bloomberg reported, often with little planning or disaster prevention.

What’s next: Reconstruction from the flooding is expected to cause US$ 3 billion — and will include disaster mitigation to reduce vulnerability to future emergencies, according to Bloomberg. While options abound for using forests to help build climate resilience to flooding and storm surges, Peru’s next moves remain to be seen — and as Bloomberg notes, it could take years to assemble and assess.

Read more here.

  1. Now, the good news: Titling indigenous communities protects forests in the Peruvian Amazon

The story: A new study adds to a steady drumbeat of evidence for what we already knew: Giving indigenous people legal title over their lands is good for conserving forests. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, measured the effects on forest cover in the Peruvian Amazon in places where indigenous communities were known to have legally binding tenure of their lands. What they found: Deforestation fell 75 percent on land after it was formally granted to indigenous communities.

What’s next: With the benefits becoming ever clearer, more countries are prioritizing land titling for indigenous people and local communities. Land tenure is a crucial component of Ecuador’s successful forest-protection program Socio Bosque; Kenya recently enacted laws to better enable land titling; and in recent months, Indonesia has granted control of some forests to indigenous groups.

Read more here.

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  1. Linking trees and water

The story: The well-established link between carbon emissions and deforestation has framed much of how the international community views forests. But a raft of new research is spotlighting the role of forests on something much more tangible: water. Recent studies are refining what we know about how trees increase local water availability, cool the Earth and even drive global weather patterns, according to Forests News.

With the new research, “we now have a much deeper insight into why the loss of forest cover can have such a huge impact on water availability,” scientist Douglas Sheil told Forests News. “The links are so much stronger than people previously thought. And if policymakers and land use planners are not aware of that, that’s a huge shortfall in decision making.”

What’s next: Armed with this new evidence, researchers are calling for a radical change in decision-makers’ thinking on forests that prioritizes water as a major factor in forest protection and climate change frameworks.

“If you are talking about carbon, you will see the results in 15, 50, or 100 years,” scientist Daniel Murdiyarso told Forests News. “But we see these cycling processes of water every day.”

Read more here.

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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