LOGGING IN THE VANIMO GREEN RIVER region of the West Sepik province in Papua New Guinea has shown a complete disregard for the rights or welfare of the villagers.
In 1990 logging rights were sold to a Malaysian logging company for an unknown sum. The extraction was supervised by the Forest Authority under the direction of then forestry minister, now deputy prime minister, Belden Namah.
It has been demonstrated that 70% of this logging was illegal. It is claimed that only 15% of timber cut down actually makes its way to Vanimo, most being used to fill in swamps and build bridges.
The local people have stated that, even though they were uneducated and unable to read or write Pidgin, they were forced to sign legal documents in English which they had no idea meant that they were signing away their rights to their timber.
They were employed on very low wages to help log timber in their traditionally owned forests. Once their timber had been harvested they were sacked.
They needed to buy these supplies because the logging operation had destroyed their traditional sources of food within the rainforest.
In spite of the Forest Authority claiming that logging companies offer training and safety equipment for chainsaw operators, evidence clearly shows this is untrue. One can see video evidence of villagers working as chainsaw operators with no safety equipment. Not even boots.
The claim that they have been trained in the correct method of felling timber is also incorrect. Anyone who knows how to fell a large tree would be horrified watching them.
The pristine rainforest has not only been destroyed; the rivers and creeks have been so polluted that the local villagers put their lives at risk whenever they wash or drink the water.
Diarrhoea and cholera are now common illnesses. Video evidence shows machinery being washed and the runoff going into the river system. Lack of toilet facilities also means that waste finds its way into creeks and rivers.
Now that the forest has been destroyed, plans are underway to create oil palm plantations – an economic activity of dubious benefit to the local people.
I know hindsight is useless but it is sad to know that if the rainforest had been left alone the villagers could in today’s world receive millions of dollars under various carbon trading schemes.