More environmental killings: more forests disappearing

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More environmental killings: more forests disappearing

by Fran Lambrick

Useful words:

Logging = cutting trees

Deforestation = cutting down so many trees that there is no more forest

Timber = wood prepared for commercial use

Mahatma Ghandi said: ‘what we are doing to the forests of the world is just a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another’. Now that mirror reflection is even clearer.

In the first quarter of 2014, there was a lot more deforestation in the world. Since January, NASA’s Earth Observatory, has seen very big increases in deforestation across the world – 162 per cent in Bolivia, 150 per cent in Malaysia, 63 per cent in Nigeria and 89 per cent in Cambodia. Forests are disappearing, and where are the community leaders and activists who protest against this?

Global Witness (an Environmental justice group) recently reported that people who try to defend their lands and forests are killed - more than one person per week. Between 2002 and 2013, nearly 1,000 activists were killed in 35 countries.

Two years ago, Cambodian illegal-logging activist Chut Wutty died. Wutty was shot and killed by military police in an investigation into illegal logging. But his work continues: in Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest, Wutty taught many people from the villages how to defend their natural resources.

The Prey Lang Community Network is a Cambodian group that fights against illegal loggers. Teams of people patrol teams and take away chainsaws they find and destroy them. They also burn the timber to stop loggers or corrupt authorities from making a profit.

Deforestation in Prey Lang is one of the big areas shown by NASA. It is similar to all the other areas. They have cut the forest to clear a space for a new rubber plantation, and have built sawmills (machines) to process the wood.

Three weeks ago, local environmentalist and old friend of Chut Wutty, Marcus Hardtke, made a surprise inspection. They say this is an “agricultural development”, but it is full of cut logs and machinery. It is an illegal logging operation.

When Marcus arrived, they tried to hide the truck full of wood by pushing it into the small rubber trees. Satellite images from the last three months show many new roads going from here into the forest of Prey Lang.

And important people support this illegal logging. In 2011 I was sitting next to Wutty on a Prey Lang Community Network patrol, investigating the same area. A truck of military officers arrived and pointed guns at Wutty. Community members ran to fight them off, with no guns. I filmed what happened on my camera and, hours later, showed it to Wutty. He showed me who was the district governor and military police chief.

People are now saying that the illegal logging group in Prey Lang is run by the brother and cousin of Hun Sen, Cambodia’s leader. Global Witness was the first group to say how Cambodia’s leader is linked to illegal logging. They were quiet for several years, but now, the mafia family has returned to Prey Lang forest.

The military have been doing illegal logging since the Khmer Rouge. The forest conservation guards earn so little in Cambodia that they easily agree to accepting bribes. So the real work of protecting the forest is done by the local communities.

USAID has said they will give nearly £20 million for sustainable forestry in Prey Lang and east Cambodia. But the patrol teams have not received any money yet.

Development agencies seem afraid to fight the timber mafia and their connections in government. So politics is not changing. Many Cambodians support the Prey Lang Community Network, but there is not much international support.

Before he died, Chut Wutty said that if nothing changed, in five years the forest would be gone.

Two years later, that prediction is coming true. But the Prey Lang community, in this forgotten corner of the forest, is, maybe, the last hope.

Fran Lambrick is a director, producer and researcher. She has recently completed a PhD on community forestry in Cambodia.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2014/05/13/deforestation-southeast-asia/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).