Location and areas
The Equatorial Rain Forest Regions, as the name indicates, are found near the Equator between 0° to 10° north and south of the Equator. It is spread over the parts of three continents, Asia, Africa and South America. Equator passes through this part of the world. In South America, the region includes the Amazon lowlands and coastal lowlands of North-eastern Brazil, coastal Colombia and parts of adjoining Ecuador.
In Africa, it covers the entire Zaire (Congo) basin and the Guinea Coast in West Africa. The areas in Asia are Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Papua, parts of Philippines, peninsular Thailand, Nicobar Islands, parts of Sri Lanka and of adjoining India. Equatorial parts of the Andes and East African plateau have a modified equatorial climate.
As the Sun’s rays are always nearly vertical, the temperatures, throughout the year, are very high and average between 25°C to 30°C. The range of temperature between the coldest and warmest months is very small about 3°C or so (Manaus: 14°C). There are generally two maxima and two minima of temperature connected with the movement of the Sun, north and south of the Equator. The diurnal range averages about 8°C. Night temperatures usually fall to around 25°C or 26°C. Thus, there is little seasonal change and only the nights are regarded as the winter of this region. The widespread cloudiness prevents loss of radiation in the night and the cooling of atmosphere.
The humidity is generally very high, which causes very enervating damp heat. The rainfall is heavy, and falls throughout the year. It averages between 150 to 350 cm. Manaus, lying in the interior of the Amazon lowlands, has an annual rainfall of 160 cm., while Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon, has 220 cm. and Singapore 230 cm. The rainfall is especially heavy at equinoxes (March and September). The areas, which are more distant from the Equator, receive comparatively less rainfall.
The rainfall is of convectional type. The high temperature condition favours the convectional movement of the air; these convectional currents are at their maximum height by the afternoon. So, the rainfall occurs almost everyday by 3 or 4 p.m. It occurs in torrential downpour and with squalls and heavy thunder storms. On an average, there are 100 to 200 thunder storms a year.
Thus, we see that many of the conditions of this type of climate are unfavourable for man. The enervating and oppressively damp heat, and uniformly monotonous daily weather cause physical and mental indolence. These conditions lead to several diseases like malaria, yellow fever and sleeping sickness. Because of continuous rain, the soils are leached, and have poor drainage conditions.
The high temperature and heavy rainfall produce luxuriant vegetation in these areas. There are dense equatorial forests known as the Selvas. These are largest evergreen forests in the world. These forests always look green, as there are no prescribed seasons for growing, flowering and shedding of leaves. The deciduous trees shed their leaves at sometime during the year, but is always possible to find many deciduous trees in leaf. The most remarkable feature of the equatorial forest is the great variety of trees. Sometimes, several varieties of trees are found in a very small area. The forests are dense. As the trees struggle for the sunlight, they grow to a tremendous height of 40 to 50 metres. The trees usually form a thick canopy, and the sunlight is prevented from reaching the forest floor. There are various types of lianas (climbing plants), tree ferns and parasitic plants (which grow on other plants), which also prevent the penetration of the Sun’s rays to the lowest floor. Thus, the whole region looks dark, damp and gloomy. When light can penetrate to the forest floor, thickets of low trees, shrubs etc., grow. Nearly, all the trees are of the broad-leafed evergreen type. Most of them are hard-wood trees like mahogany, rose-wood, ebony, iron-wood, green-heart, cincona, rubber, etc. Palms and tree ferns are also found in most equatorial forests. In coastal areas and swamps, mangrove forests thrive.
The 7 million sq. km. vast evergreen equatorial forests are very important to our environment because they absorb a very large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and exhale huge amount of oxygen. Hence, they are known as the “Lungs of the World”. The destruction of these forests will adversely affect the ozone layer and disturb the ecological balance. This will cause a great harm to all living creatures. It is now greatly realised to save the rain forest from destruction to retain their longterm importance for mankind. Efforts are being made to check slash and burn type of cultivation in Amazon basin and Central Africa and to develop them on sound economic basis.
Equatorial Forests are not commercially so important
Equatorial forests are not so much of commercial importance as those of the evergreen forests of the temperate regions. This is because of several reasons:
- These forests are dense. The ground is wet and swampy. Construction of roads is almost impossible. There are formidable transport difficulties.
- The forests are not found in pure stands of a single species. On each acre, there are two or more species of trees. Such great varieties make it very difficult to collect any one type of trees, which may be in particular demand.
- In the temperate zone, the winter snow enables the logs to be hauled with a minimum of mechanical transport. This facility is not available in the equatorial forests.
- Many of the hardwoods do not float, and have to be transported by boat. This is difficult and expensive.
- Though, these forests yield timber highly prized for cabinet work, yet its demand is not so much as that of the soft wood of the temperate zone. It is because the timber of the temperate forests is often and more easily worked.
- Most of the people in the forest areas are backward, and they have no sufficient capital to invest for the exploitation of forests.
Like vegetation, animal life in the equatorial regions is also found in abundance and variety. There are an immense number and variety of insects e.g., butterflies, termites, mosquitoes, spiders, ticks, gnats, ferocious driverants and tsetse flies. Many of these insects are of the stinging and disease carrying types. Because of the lack of grass, there are very few ground animals. Animals of the carnivorous type are also very few. But animals spending their time on trees and in water are found in abundance. The animals pertaining to trees are monkeys, sloths, bats, tree-frogs, tree-lizards, tree-iguanas and flying squirrels. The carnivorous animals like jaguar and some species of snakes are good climbers, as their prey is likely to be found in the trees. In therivers and swamps, there are alligators, crocodiles and hippopotamuses. The hippopotamus is found in Africa only. The big animals, such as rhinoceros and elephants, are also found in many areas. These big animals make their way through the thick undergrowth by their great strength. The other animals of the ground type are gorillas, chimpanzees, wild pigs and okpis. Gorillas are found in West Africa.
Equatorial regions are the most thinly populated parts of the world. Some of the areas, such as the Amazon Basin, the Zaire Basin and many large islands of Indonesia, and the Philippines, have extremely sparse population. But there are certain areas, such as Java and some parts of Sumatra, which have a dense population. Island of Singapore is an example of a city state with a high standard of living. But the natives of most parts of this first region remain cut off from the areas of great progress and still eke out their living as hunters, good gatherers, fish catchers or shifting cultivators. Resources are well-developed in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia but in most other parts shifting agriculture is practised and rivers are the only means of transport.
Pygmies of the Zaire Basin
These are small-statured people of the Zaire Basin. Their height is not more than 140 cm. These people live in small bands of one or a few families. They never establish permanent dwellings. They wander from place-to-place in search of game. They are clever in climbing trees. For their food and nourishment, they rely on fishing, hunting and gathering edible fruits and leaves from the forests. Their houses are mere tiny huts, built of branches, the frame-work being semi-circular. This frame-work is thatched with leaves and sometimes, plastered with mud. Due to the hot and wet climate of the place and their primitive ways of life, the pygmies use very little clothing, mainly Loin cloth of bark, skin or trade cloth. Although the primitive stage of life of these people is disappearing, because of encroachment of more advanced groups, yet many of them prefer to lead a free life in the lonely parts of the thick forests.
As explained earlier, most of the tribal people of these regions pass their life as hunters and collectors of food from forest and rivers. Most of the food is eaten raw. They have roving habits of life, and have no permanent villages.
The more advanced people in some of these regions practise shifting agriculture. This is migratory system of agriculture. It is known as fag in Africa, ladang in Indonesia and milpa in South America. In this type of agriculture, at first, the small trees of an area are cut by a long thick-bladed knife. If the trees are big, their limbs are trimmed and girdled. Then, the slath is burnt, and crops are planted among the stumps by dropping the seeds into holes, made with a pointed stick. After planting, the crops are given a little care until the harvest. The main crops may be manioc (cassava), yams, maize, bananas, ground-nuts and a number of other vegetables. Most of the farming work is done by women. Men do hunting and fishing jobs. After two or three years, the fertility of the soil is depleted because of leaching and growing of crops. Then, the natives abandon the clearings, and make a new one, usually nearby.
Commercial Plantation Agriculture
The exotic products of these equatorial areas have long been attracting the Europeans to these regions. They exploited these areas and established many large plantations. The plantation agriculture has been widely used in Indonesia, Malaysia, West Africa and Central America. In plantation agriculture there is specialization in a particular crop. Its product is supplied to areas outside this region. The plantation locations are generally close to the sea coast. This helps in getting cheap water transportation. The sea breezes alleviate the heat and humidity, and also increase the productivity of the crops. The system is based on large land holdings. A large capital is invested, and the management is done by corporate organizations. Technicians, tools, capital, fertilizers, building materials etc., are imported. Native labour is employed, as it is considerably cheaper. Now-a-days, mechanical equipment is also used. Under plantation aglriculture, the outstanding product is rubber. It is grown mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia. The other products are: cocoa in Ghana and Nigeria; coconuts in Philippine Islands and Indonesia; palmoil in Indonesia and Malaysia; Manila hemp in Philippine Islands; and sugar-cane in Indonesia. In contrast to poorly developed Amazon and Zaire basins, these areas of plantation agriculture stand developed in all respects.
Mining and Manufacturing
The dense vegetation of these regions, has made mining very difficult. But in some areas mining is carried on a large scale, e.g., copper, diamonds and gold in Congo basin, tin in Malaysia, petroleum in Sumatra, Java and Borneo, and bauxite in Guianas in South America and oil in Brunei and Indonesia. As manufacturing industries are lacking, most of the raw materials are sent to the industrial areas of Western Europe and the U.S.A. In comparison, the more accessible South-East Asia is more economically developed than regions in Africa and South America.
Jakarta (Population 7.8 million) is the capital of Indonesia and a major commercial centre exporting rubber, copra, tea, oil palm, sugar as well as timber. Bandung situated at a height of 600 metres above sea level in western Java provides 75% of World’s supply of cincona for quinine. Central Java is another important commercial port dealing in similar exports. Singapore (Population 2.76 million), the capital of this city state, is located at the converging point of trade routes between China, Australia and India. It is one of the largest entre-port through which imports and exports pass to other countries. It handles trade in rubber, tin, tea, coffee, copra, oil, textiles and machinery imported from neighbouring countries and from abroad.
Kuala Lumpur (Pop. 9 lakh)is the capital of Malaysia, its largest commercial and industrial port dealing in tin mining, timber products, rubber tyres and processed food articles.
Lagos (Pop. 16 lakh) is the capital of Nigeria and its chief port exporting groundnuts, cocoa, palm oil, hides, and tin ore.
Accra (Pop. 5.66 million) is the capital of Ghana, a fine harbour and an international airport in West Africa handling the export of cocoa, gold, diamonds, manganese and timber. Stanleyville (Kisangani) and Leopoldville (Kinshasa) are the only important urban centres respectively along upper and lower course of Zaire river in equatorial central Africa. While Kinshasa being capital of Zaire is the centre of railways, roads and river navigation, Kisangani is a collecting and distributing centre. In Amazon basin of Brazil, Manaus in its upper part and Balem (Para) a port near the mouth of the river are notable. Some rubber, cocoa, nuts and tapioca are exported from Para.