World Rainforest Movement

DRC: Threat to rainforests gain momentum

The Congo rainforests of central Africa are, after the Amazon, the second largest rainforest on Earth and a major biodiversity hotspot: Two-thirds of the forest lies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — still divided by a vicious civil war fuelled by competition for control over natural resources, and that claimed 3.5 million lives. About 40 million people of DRC depend on the rainforests for their very survival.

However, the World Bank — by far the largest creditor to the DRC — is encouraging with its support the government plans of a massive expansion of industrial logging. Those plans will unleash a wave of destruction of DRC’s rainforest which are now allocated to the logging industry which is taking advantage of continued legal uncertainty and a weak government.

The rainforest is being sold off under the argument that it will alleviate poverty in one of the poorest countries on Earth but it is tantamount to a death sentence for the forest and forest dependent people. The Twa, Mbuti and Aka ‘Pygmies’, and the Bantu people have lived in the Congo’s forests for thousands of years surviving by hunting and gathering wild foods. They know how to protect the plants, animals and ecosystems of the rainforest. But they don’t know what big business has in store for them.

In exchange for timber worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, logging companies are giving communities gifts such as crates of beer worth less than $100, and make promises to build schools and hospitals. These promises rarely fulfilled and there are reports that intimidation tactics are used against people who try to protest.

The DRC Government introduced a moratorium in 2002 forbidding the allocation, extension and renewal of logging titles. But despite the original moratorium being reaffirmed by Presidential decree, it has been widely ignored, including by the World Bank and other credit institutions that support this plan.

More than 150 contracts covering an area of rainforest of around 21 million hectares (over 51 million acres) have been signed with 20 companies over the past three years. Many are believed to have been illegally allocated in 2002 by a transition government emerging from a decade of civil wars and are in defiance of a World Bank moratorium.

The Rainforest Foundation has been warning for the last three years that large-scale logging could spark massive environmental problems, fuel conflict with people living in the forest, and spread corruption as politicians, officials and warlords cash in on a ‘timber bonanza’. Greenpeace recently joined the Rainforest Foundation’s Stop the Carve-Up of the Congo campaign and released a 100-page study. Compiled by Greenpeace International working with Congolese ecological and human rights groups “Carving Up the Congo” reports that the companies are mainly from Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Singapore and the US, and they will extract African teak which is widely used for flooring, furniture and doors in Britain.

To gain access to the forests for the next 25 years, the European companies have made agreements with village chiefs, offering bags of salt, machetes and bicycles, and in some cases promised to build rudimentary schools, the report states.

International groups called for at least a 10-year freeze on the allocation of new areas for timber cutting in the Congo. The Rainforest Foundation is calling now for a G-8 declaration on the importance of the Congo rainforests and the role they play in combating climate change. “We will keep up the momentum at the G-8 meeting of the most wealthy nations in June to maintain the focus on the world’s last great rainforest frontier,” said Simon Counsell, from The Rainforest Foundation.

Article based on: “Plight of Congo forests grabs world attention”, The Rainforest Foundation, http://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/s-Plight%20o
f%20Congo%20forests%20grabs%20world%20attention; “Rainforest destruction in Africa”, Greenpeace, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/congo-report-110407; “Selling off the rainforest – a modern-day scandal”, John Vidal in Kisangani, April 11, 2007, The Guardian; “Report From The Congo Rainforest”, Cath Long, The Rainforest Foundation, http://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/s-Report%20from%20the%20Congo%20Rainforest