Illegal logging destroying PNG
BARNEY ZWARTZ in The Age
Environmental vandalism by loggers in Papua New Guinea is destroying the nation and its people while Australia makes futile promises to try to influence logging policy, according to a former missionary and a landowner.
Brother Jim Coucher worked in and near Vanimo on the north-west coast of PNG for 43 years until five years ago. Just returned from his first visit since, he was utterly horrified at the changes, he said yesterday, the speed of destruction caused by logging and corruption, and the plight of the local people.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised at December’s Copenhagen conference on climate change that he would try to persuade his neighbours to reduce logging.
”I don’t think anyone has an idea of the extent of logging, and I don’t think anything can be done,” Brother Coucher said. He does not want his religious order identified for fear of reprisals against members still working in Papua New Guinea.
A PNG landowner now living in Australia said yesterday that loggers came on to his land without consultation or compensation, and stockpiled logs there. The landowner, a sub-clan chief, said loggers destroyed a creek that had provided fish for his villagers.
They bulldozed breadfruit trees, sago and coconut palms, and built a wharf in the harbour that meant villagers could not fish. They hired almost no villagers, he said. Instead, they brought in unskilled Asian workers.
”Malnutrition is rampant. It is horrible to see young mothers who are skin and bone. There is no sanitation, no running water – it is a time bomb,” the landowner said. ”They are logging Vanimo to its death.”
Brother Coucher said the villagers were worse off than 20 years ago, because the logging companies and the government don’t put anything back.
Soldiers and police guard the logging camps under corrupt arrangements, prostitution and AIDS had become rife, and people could not support their families, he said. Logging practices by Malaysian companies in PNG have long been of international concern, but Brother Coucher said matters were much worse in Vanimo and Sandaun Province because it was so remote.
”You can only get in by sea or air, and there’s one coastal road. To calm the locals, the main landowner in an area might be given a vehicle and he supposedly keeps the villagers quiet,” he said.
”At first they welcome the loggers because they think it might mean money, but in fact they get very little out of it. The loggers don’t do any replanting or clearing up at all … and they give no benefits to the people. They use bulldozers to drag the logs, which creates all sorts of problems with erosion.”
In all the years the loggers had been in Sandaun there had been no development, Brother Coucher said, except for some work by AusAid on a hospital and putting bitumen on the road.
An AusAid spokeswoman said Australia and PNG were working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, having signed a forest carbon partnership two years ago.
This included an initial $3 million to tackle policy and capacity challenges, plus a commitment to tackle illegal logging and a program to help PNG manage its forests sustainably.