From email@example.com Tue May 22 09:39:35 2001
Date: Mon, 21 May 2001 10:28:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: Glen Barry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: FORESTS: Liberia's Rain Forest Vanishes
Instead, this small village in Sinoe County is bisected by a four-lane unpaved highway, called the OTC Road. The road runs for more than 100 miles, through what was pristine tropical rain forest.
They cutting the log down, taking it to their places. They're
making money, said Jonathon Osarade, a Gbese resident, laughing as
one of the day's dozens of 18-wheel trucks howled past, carrying a
load of logs to ships waiting at Liberian ports.
Road dust caked the clay walls of the town school where Osarade was standing - a school where students study on dirt floors, without electricity.
It's not no help for me, Osarade said.
If they employ me, it
help, but it not no help for me.
When the Oriental Timber Company widened the road last year, Osarade and his neighbors went to the logging camp to look for work. They were rejected. Indonesians and Malaysians drive the Oriental Timber Company trucks.
A year later, Osarade supports his family by making palm wine.
Liberia's seven-year civil war, which concluded in 1997, left the economy in shambles. And environmentalists say they have since monitored a dramatic increase in timber cutting in rain forests that a decade ago covered 43 percent of the country.
The race to harvest the forests - with the government and foreign
companies the main beneficiaries - has created what one ecologist says
a gold-rush-like mentality.
We could see a loss of the vast majority of the pristine forests
that remain right now within the next 10 years, said Reg Hoyt, a
visiting ecologist from the Philadelphia Zoo.
The crisis that affected Liberia up through 1997 has left the
country economically devastated, said Hoyt, who completed a study
of Liberia's Grand Sapo National Park.
I believe there are
companies, multinational companies, which really try to take advantage
of that and try to take whatever they can as quickly as they can.
The Oriental Timber Company's roads and timber operations have expanded deeper into the rain forest. What was once a towering, untouched jungle habitat of rare forest elephants and pygmy hippopotamuses is now a honeycomb of quarter-mile wide strips of deforested bush and road.
Alexander Peal, president of the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia, returned to the country after the war to resume his work as a conservationist.
Ten years ago we had a management plan - the national forest areas
were clearly demarcated and patrolled by forest guides, Peal said.
Now I don't see that any more. We don't even know if we're on
national forest lands any more. I think we've lost them already.
Timber is one of the few industries remaining in the shattered economy. Timber exports are also one of the few legal sources of revenue for the government of President Charles Taylor, a former warlord who has been accused of prolonging a decade of civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, by arming rebels there in exchange for smuggled diamonds.
With the adoption of the Strategic Commodities Act in 1999, Taylor assumed control over the export of Liberia's natural resources. That control includes the power to approve logging concessions to foreign companies.
In December, the UN Security Council dropped a timber embargo from a packet of economic sanctions against Taylor's regime. China rejected the timber embargo and, according to a diplomat at the US Embassy in Monrovia, France also took steps to kill the measure. A report by the Liberian Forestry Development Authority says 45 percent of Liberia's exported logs in 1999 went to France and China.
Archbishop Matthew Francis of Liberia's Roman Catholic Church, a critic of the UN's economic sanctions against Liberia, was nevertheless disappointed when the proposed timber embargo was dropped.
To save this country, I think we need an embargo on timber
export, said Francis.
This is immoral. We are destroying our
country and making a desert land for the future. And what benefits are
we really getting? Even if we were this is obscene. This will denude
the whole country.
In March, former deputy information minister Milton Teahjay wrote a letter to Taylor and his government protesting the work of timber companies in Sinoe County. Teahjay, along with several county officials, argued that Liberians were not benefiting from the timber companies' exploitation of the rain forest. They also accused timber companies of using armed militias to stomp out dissent in the port town of Greenville, the seat of Sinoe County.
On April 6, Teahjay disappeared, prompting speculation that he had been arrested, which police denied. His whereabouts are still unknown.
It takes a passenger vehicle eight bone-jarring hours, and several spare tires, to navigate the logging roads from the Liberian capital of Monrovia to Greenville. The rutted dirt roads take travelers past rivers and streams choked with logs, through fields of felled trees stacked dozens of feet high. Vehicles must pass through an OTC road camp checkpoint staffed by armed, uniformed men.
Along the way, smoke darkened the sky as newly-arrived farmers burned huge sections of forest to the ground, to plant rice and cassava.
Barely a week after Teahjay sent his letter to the president, Greenville was buzzing with dozens of machine-gun toting police and soldiers. A delegation led by Vice President Moses Blah was on hand to investigate the allegations.
Blah said he had found no proof that timber companies employ armed militias, and added that logging companies are helping Liberia by building good roads to link remote communities.
With the huge police presence on hand, Greenville residents refused to discuss politics with outsiders.
Everything they are doing here is being controlled by the central
government, Blah said.
So I don't think we are fools for
someone to just come here and rape us while we are just standing
A report by the London-based watchdog organization Global Witness has accused the OTC road administrators of clear-cutting forests, of exporting undersized logs, and of cutting 100,000 cubic meters of forest in its first 12 weeks of operation in 1999.
Jihad Akkari, a Lebanese national running the Greenville branch of the Akkari Timber Industry, rejected the charges that loggers are clear-cutting the forests. But he was matter-of-fact about his aims.
Look, I'm a businessman. I'm here to make money, Akkari
I will try to take out as much as I can.
In the village of Tarpaulin, four hours by car northwest of Greenville, smoke billowed around a farmer, Daniel Harmon, as he burned and fertilized his small plot of land in the middle of the jungle. Within sight of his family's hut stood towering pyramids of stacked OTC logs, on a cleared area the size of several football fields.
All I know is they're taking the logs,/
Harmon said. We do
our farm, we get our cassava, we get our bread. The OTC, they just
cutting the log and hauling it. Cutting the log and hauling it.