Venezuela's forests suffer as wood replaces scarce gas

Every morning Endy Perez searches for firewood in a national park located just behind her house... so she can cook breakfast

Perez used to rely on natural gas for cooking fuel...

but these days residents of the Venezuelan city of Maracay are turning to wood, as Venezuela grapples with a chronic natural gas shortage.

SOUNDBITE (Spanish) ENDY PEREZ, RESIDENT, SAYING:

"I have no other option, I have two children ... I have to cook."

SOUNDBITE (Spanish) JOSE MARTINEZ, RESIDENT, SAYING:

"This morning I made a trip, and this is another one and there's 2 more trips to go. The firewood is for cooking for the boys."

But the growing use of firewood - in a country that boasts the world's largest oil reserves - has triggered alarm among environmental activists who say fires and home construction in the last 40 years have already deforested about 10% of Henri Pittier National Park which spreads over 267,000 acres.

They are concerned that smoke from firewood may lead to rising temperatures in cities and increase the risk of landslides in poor communities where trees hold together an unsteady terrain.

Some cities now have so little tree cover that those in search of firewood have to walk for miles.

SOUNDBITE (Spanish) ANDREA CARRASQUERO, RESIDENT, SAYING:

"I have to look for wood sticks to be able to cook and it's hard to get them because it has been raining a lot. We have a scarcity of gas. We are still waiting for them to bring the gas. We have already been waiting for 2 weeks for the gas."

In some cases, people burn trash next to a tree to dry it out so the tree can be cut down.

The scarcity of natural gas yet another sign of Venezuela's deepening economic crisis, that has led to a shortage of food and medicine and forced millions to leave their homeland in search of a better life.

The Information Ministry did not reply to a Reuters request for comment on the environmental impact of increased use of firewood.