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Three impacts of deforestation in Borneo

The island of Borneo used to be mostly covered by dense rainforest habitat. However, because of industrial scale deforestation, Borneo has lost 30 percent of its forest in the past 40 years, which is not without disastrous effects.

Located in the extreme southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean, Borneo is the third-largest island in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea. The island is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, with Indonesia being the largest political component.

Photo: Rainforest in Kinabalu Park, Borneo by Dukeabruzzi, from Wikimedia Commons

Once mostly covered by dense rainforests and one of the most diverse habitats on earth, deforestation has been practiced on this beautiful island on an industrial scale since the 60s. The forests are being leveled at an unprecedented rate in human history. For example, Malaysia has been losing 14.4% of its forests between 2000-2012, which is the world’s highest rate. During that period, the country has lost a larger proportion of its dense forests than any other major tropical forest nation. An estimated 4.5 million ha of forests or, in other words, a football pitch every 1.5 minutes, have been destroyed.

Why deforestation?

Some of the key drivers of the deforestation in Borneo are the paper pulp plantations, as well as illegal logging and wildfires. However, palm oil plantations may be the biggest responsible party for this ecological disaster.

Indeed, palm oil is the world’s most popular vegetable oil nowadays, accounting for one-third of global consumption of vegetable oils, and used in a variety of industrial production from food products to cosmetic products and even biodiesel. And the demand keeps rising. To keep up with it, about 16,000 square miles of Borneo’s rainforest have been logged to make space for the precious oil. It accounts for a fifth of the total deforestation on Borneo since 1973, and as much as 47 percent since 2000.

1. A devastating impact on wildlife

Every square mile of rainforest lost means the loss and disruption to the natural homes of the rainforest inhabitants. Such a reduction of wildlife habitat obviously has a strong impact on biodiversity.

Deforestation has left mere patches of a forest without any inter-connection - in other words, corridors between woodlands-, leading to the risk of extinction for hundreds of species. Large mammals, such as orangutans or elephants, are particularly affected because they require vast areas to survive, whilst other smaller species become unable to colonize isolated patches of habitat and become locally extinct.

Road construction not only leads to the separation of forest patches, therefore reducing the wildlife habitat as described above but also provides easier access for poachers to more remote and diverse tracts of the rainforests.

Photo: Elephants in Borneo, by Denis Luyten, from Wikimedia Commons

2. The social impact

Perhaps a bit less obvious, but no less tragic, are the negative impacts that deforestation also has on the people living in or nearby the forests.

Oil palm plantations are currently providing needed employment opportunities in Borneo. However, their fairness or real positive impact may be questioned, since human rights abuses such as child labor and forced evictions of the indigenous population have been documented on several occasions. Last year (2019) the NPO Human Rights Watch had published an overwhelming report, stating villagers were surprised by the palm oil company’s operations, only realizing their lands and forests were going to be razed when bulldozers started to arrive in the area.

Local populations in Borneo have been fighting against deforestation since the 1980s in order to preserve their very basic rights, such as rights to clean food and drinking water, as well as their own culture and way of life.

3. Climate change and health

Most deforestation is made through “slash and burn” clearing. These techniques have played a large role in sparkling polluting megafires. Furthermore, deforestation tends to dry up the land and therefore cause even more wildfires. Just in 2015, the haze from Indonesian forest fires caused around 12,000 premature deaths.

With climate change and temperatures set to rise globally, the incidence and impact of forest fires are likely to increase, causing a destructive feedback loop. We must take action to disrupt this cycle, starting with ceasing the continued removal of the rainforests.

The deforestation of the Borneo forests is having dramatic impacts on all beings, human or not, living in and around it. Despite having slightly slowed down in pace since 2000, deforestation doesn’t seem anywhere near stopping. In order to not lose shelter for the world’s biodiversity - and more, we need to protect and restore this and other forests of the world.


Yong, C. (n.d.). Deforestation Drivers and Human Rights in Malaysia. Human Rights Documents Online. doi:10.1163/2210-7975_hrd-5540-2014003

Rosner H.(2018, December) Palm oil is unavoidable. Can it be sustainable? Retrieved from

Wedel, P. (2020, May 26). "When We Lost the Forest, We Lost Everything". Retrieved from

Daisy, D. (2019, march).The Carbon Brief Profile: Indonesia. Retrieved from

Rosner H.(2018, December) Palm oil is unavoidable. Can it be sustainable? Retrieved from

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