Congo's Kabila calls for rainforest protection
by David Lewis, Reuters
October 30, 2005
KINSHASA, Oct 28 (Reuters) - The world's second largest rainforest stands a greater chance of being protected after Congo's president finally backed a largely ignored ban on new logging, conservation group Greenpeace said on Friday.
Democratic Republic of Congo's government imposed a ban in 2002 on the allocation of new logging concessions to prevent rampant deforestation in the vast, central African country but the moratorium has since been widely flouted.
President Joseph Kabila this week signed a decree in support of the ban, a move which Greenpeace said should stop more concessions being handed out and force a review of millions of hectares already illegally allocated.
"There have been a lot of violations of this moratorium," Greenpeace forestry campaigner Filip Verbelen told Reuters in an interview in Kinshasa. "But now it has been approved at the highest level and there is no other possible interpretation."
Congo has some 100 million hectares (250 million acres) of rainforest, most of which has remained untouched due to inaccessibility and years of war.
But as peace returns and logging companies follow suit, environmentalists fear the Congo Basin -- more than one million square miles stretching from eastern Congo to the coast of the Gulf of Guinea -- will be carved up without proper environmental planning or consideration for the communities living there.
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Known as the heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad, the Congo region has long conjured up thoughts of pygmies, mythical beasts, dreadful plagues, and cannibals. It is a land made famous by the adventures of Stanley and Livingstone and known as a place of brutality and violence for its past -- the days of the Arab slave and ivory trade, its long history of tribal warfare -- and its present -- the ethnic violence and massacres of today.
As well as the ban on new concessions, Congo drew up a forestry code in 2002 that, in theory, ensured civil society and local populations had a say in how the forests were carved up.
It also called for logging concessions to be distributed by public auction and for 40 percent of the money the government made to be returned to the communities the trees came from.
But with corruption rife and central authority often lacking in Congo's vast interior, environmentalists fear a rapid expansion of logging will be unsustainable and offer little economic benefit for Congo's impoverished people.
"Congo is the last battlefield in the Congo Basin and everyone is trying to get a slice of the action," Verbelen said.
"This is the last place where we can think big in terms of biodiversity so we need to take a break and think about conservation and proper land use planning," he said.
Congo's wealth of natural resources contributed to a decade of conflict during which at least six neighbouring countries sent in soldiers to defend the government or back rebels.
During the last war, which officially ended in 2003, the belligerents were all accused of taking advantage of the power vacuum to plunder Congo's minerals, diamonds and timber.
The international community is trying to help a fragile and deeply divided transitional government restore the authority of the state across the nation.
But Verbelen said more must be done: "There is a lack of capacity to follow up on the forestry code. It is good to have this moratorium but the donors must invest to make sure that there is a capacity to enforce it."
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