What a carve up! The con in the Congo logging industry

Posted by jamie — 11 April 2007 at 9:00am - Comments

A logging road torn through the Congo rainforest

As we revealed last week, we've been doing a lot of work recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), researching the threats that currently face the vast rainforest that stretch across the Congo basin.

It's a forest we can ill-afford to lose: 40 million people depend on the forest in one way or another. It is also critical for the survival of our closest animal relatives, including gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, and like all large intact forests, it's crucially important for regulating the local and global climate.

Today, we're releasing a new report, Carving Up the Congo, which exposes how international logging companies are causing social chaos and wreaking environmental havoc. It also reveals how the World Bank, by far the largest donor to the DRC, is failing to stop this destruction whilst the rainforest is being sold off under the illusion that it will alleviate poverty in one of the poorest countries on Earth.

The report is long and complex but to help those of you who don't have time to plough through it, we've summarised our findings in the animation below:

Like the animation? Use it on your website or blog

Unfulfilled promises

In short, our report shows how, in spite of a moratorium on new logging that has been in place since 2002, over 15 million hectares of rainforest have been granted to the logging industry - that's an area five times the size of Belgium, and much of this is in areas that are vital for protecting biodiversity.

Taxes paid by the companies for the rights to log the forest should be going to local forest communities to provide essential services that those of us in developed nations take for granted like education and healthcare. But even the World Bank admits that over the last three years, not a single penny paid by the logging companies has reached local communities. This leaves these people not only without the forest that provided their food, shelter and medicine, but without the benefits they had been promised.

What is the World Bank?
The World Bank is group of five international organisations responsible for providing finance and advice to countries for the purposes of economic development and alleviating poverty.
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Read John Vidal's story on the Congo rainforest in the Guardian
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In exchange for timber worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, logging companies are also giving communities gifts such as bags of salt and 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. We have copies of some of these contracts along with stories of how people have been pushed into to sign them, even if they can't read the French they are written in.

Not only that, but corruption is endemic and the local authorities are inadequately trained or equipped to enforce the law. Poorly paid officials sometimes have only a bicycle to help them patrol vast areas of rainforest, making it impossible to control the industry.

Ministerial influence

It sounds like bad news for the Congolese, but there is still time to prevent the destruction of the rainforest and see that alternative solutions are developed which will really help to lift the country out of poverty.

The World Bank's spring meeting is this weekend and the DRC is on the agenda. Hilary Benn, Secretary of State at the Department for International Development and the UK's Governor of the Bank, will be attending so we want him to use his influence to ensure there is a real future for the rainforest and ensure proper safeguards are put in place to protect it. Our campaigners are in conversation with him this morning and we'll be keeping a close eye on how things progress at the spring meeting.

It's not too late to prevent the destruction of this incredible rainforest, and by putting pressure on Benn and the other governors of the Bank, that's exactly what we intend to do.

Take action

Find out what you can do to help protect the Congo rainforest.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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