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January 23, 2022

Catastrophic setbacks

The EU recently warned Romania that its towns still do not comply with the norm of 26 meters of green area per inhabitant. Indeed, the only two exceptions are Brasov and Craiova, but many towns barely reach half of this minimum standard set by the EU through a programme aimed at drastically curbing pollution and instating a healthy and civilised environment. As far as this last issue is concerned, Romanian towns meet other difficulties too, also because of insufficient street lighting and poor roads. This explains why the number of traffic accidents at night is similar to daytime incidence, although night traffic is very light. The end result is reflected by the 3,100 dead and the tens of thousands of people injured in road accidents during 2010, for instance. And we should not forget the increasing incidence of bronchopulmonary diseases and cancer – also a result of the polluted environment in urban areas.

Each time they receive such warnings from the EU, Romanian officials excuse themselves, and that’s all. They are not preoccupied to find a solution. When it comes to insufficient green areas, they complain that they do not have enough plots of land adequate to this view. According to local administration officials, the high density of buildings “integrally” explains the absence of green spaces. The superficiality of this explanation becomes obvious if one considers the real situation of green plots, where they still exist. Town parks or the patches of forest around urban localities are poorly maintained on purpose, so that their gradual disappearance – described as “natural” – allows them to be used for the construction of new buildings that respect neither architectural common sense, nor administrative rules. The very notion of longevity is disturbing for the psychology of “modern” managers, who only judge in terms of the financial gain they can make today (“carpe diem”).

As a consequence, given the frequent conclusions about the pension budget’s role of worsening the present economic crisis, it is no wonder that the old rows of lime trees and other kinds of trees alongside county roads fall under the axe. Why? Because drunk or sleepy drivers that cannot control their vehicles have the right to fall in the roadside ditch or capsize their cars in the field, rather than fatally crash against one of the trees besides the road. This sick mentality results in general hostility against the “guardians” of our roads, which often become the victims of thieves’ chainsaws, when they are not set ablaze, along with the surrounding fields in the autumn. Even when they are not directly scorched by flames, the thick smoke accelerates their drying process, as an “undisputable” right to their complete disappearance.

Thorough and formal research proves the fact that the big scientific breakthroughs of modern times, with beneficial effects for so many fields of activity, are often undermined – sometimes even transformed in their contrary – by a deficit of public conscience. The protection of natural and social environment suffers mostly because of this deficit, which made its way even into our laws. The present disaster of Romanian forest is a matter of concern even for nearby countries, aware of the negative consequences upon the Earth atmosphere. But this legitimate concern is absent in Romania.

As a consequence, only 1 pc of the countless criminal cases of forest destruction has been solved by courts over the last two decades. Even the members of the Romanian Parliament are – knowingly or not – part of this disaster. There are legal provisions which define as serious crimes only the cases when more than 5 cubic meters of wood are cut illegally. Hence, those who steal only one cubic meter of wood from the forest risk just a petty fine. The result of this legal tragedy? Columns of carts or other vehicles loaded with just a cubic meter of wood stolen from the forest can be seen each day on many roads, risking only a fine if caught. And even these fines are modest, when compared to the market value of the stolen wood. The destruction of Romania’s forests has become “a business” that attracts even some foreign “investors.”

The debut of this disaster against nature coincides, in our case, with the so-called retrocession of forest areas to their former owners. The rule of law was intensely evoked as an argument for this retrocession. But the same rule of law demanded that the more than 2 million hectares of forest returned to their owners (out of a total 4.5 million at country scale) stay under the strict authority of forest laws. This means cultivated and exploited the right way, at the optimal time, with a two-pronged approach: economic, to the benefit of the owner, and ecological, to the benefit of the whole national territory. Instead, these 2 million hectares were first removed from the area of competence of forest authorities, and then extensively robbed and destroyed. Because of this large-scale theft from Romanian forests, raw wood has been Romania’s main export for many years.

The painful implications of this forest slaughter continue in space, but also in time. If exploited the reasonable, scientific way, and exported at the market price of processed wood, the 2 million hectares would have brought the country an income in excess of EUR 10 bln. But the way things went in Romania, it would cost us more than EUR 5 bln to replant the deforested areas, plus the cost of forest operations required for saplings to reach maturity: some 60 years for acacia forests, 120 years for fir trees, pines and spruce, over 150 years for oak. And we should not ignore the other dramas caused by deforestation: massive landslides that destroy homes, roads, railroads and bridges, and a hunting stock unique in Europe that is nearly extinct. By putting to good use this hunting fund -brown bear, fallow deer, chamois, grouse, lynx – could bring Romania tens of millions of euros each year, without any other investment than an intelligent approach and respect for the natural assets of the country.

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