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Green cost of sleet: US$8b of forest wealth
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Monkeys shivering with cold. Farmers weeping over their loss. Trees damaged for miles after miles.

These are some of the video clips provided by the State Forestry Administration (SFA) Tuesday to show the damage caused by the worst winter in central and southern China in more than half a century.

About 18.6 million hectares of forests were destroyed or damaged - it is equal to one-tenth of the country's green cover, or the area afforestated between 2004 and 2006. The direct loss to the forestry sector totaled 57.3 billion yuan ($8 billion), SFA officials said.

The icy weather not only destroyed crops and forests, but also killed or injured about 30,000 animals under State wildlife protection. The cause of most of the deaths and injuries was frostbite.

"The damage to forest resources will have a negative impact on China's ecology," Zhu Lieke, SFA deputy director, told a press conference in Beijing Tuesday.

The disaster will make it difficult for China to meet its green plan of raising its total forest cover to 20 percent of its land area by 2010.

The difference between a farmland and a forest is that the latter takes a much longer time to recover from a natural disaster, forest experts said. They estimate it could take a bamboo forest five years, fir forest 10 years, and broadleaf trees 20-50 years to fully recover from the sleet battering.

"The entire ecological system could take even longer to get back to normal," Zhu said.

The damage also means China may have to import bamboos, resin and camellia oil or their substitutes to make up for their loss.

Steps are being taken to help forestry companies and their workers restore their business, Zhu said. The government will provide subsidies and loans for reforestation.

(China Daily February 21, 2008)

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