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Congolese Rainforest Zoning for Logging Protested

LONDON, UK, February 12, 2004 (ENS) - More than 100 environment, development, and human rights groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today called on the World Bank to stop plans for economic development of the country that would carve up the world's second largest remaining rainforest into industrial logging concessions.

Internal World Bank documents obtained by the Rainforest Foundation and shared with the DRC groups reveal that the bank intends to "create a favorable climate for industrial logging" in the Congo, and envisions a 60 fold increase in the country’s timber production.

In a statement today the groups said plans for the development of DRC’s forests would have “major repercussions for the rights and livelihoods of millions of Congolese citizens, with serious and irreversible impacts” on the forest environment.

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Twa pygmy people who live in the DRC rainforest. (Photo courtesy Rainforest Foundation)
Covering around 1.3 million square kilometers, the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo are the largest in the world after Amazonia, and have so far largely been spared extensive destruction. An estimated 35 million people live in and around these forests, including Bantu farmers, and Twa and Mbuti hunter-gatherer Pygmies.

From 1998 the deadliest war in Africa's history has torn the country apart. But successful completion of the inter-Congolese dialogue last year has resulted in the establishment of a transitional government of national unity that is supposed to lead the DRC to elections within 30 months.

Despite the ceasefire, the eastern DRC remains overrun by numerous armed rebel groups and militias, plundering gold, diamonds and valuable minerals, terrorizing, looting, raping and killing villagers, and destroying social infrastructure, warned the International Medical Corps in a report last month.

To stabilize the country, the international community is encouraging and monitoring its economic reconstruction, but the Rainforest Foundation warns that a comprehensive new Forest Code adopted in August 2002, supported by the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, will lead to widespread rainforest logging.

The DRC's entire rainforest would be zoned and parceled out to logging companies, says the Rainforest Foundation, warning, "Congolese environmental and human rights groups, and people living in the forest, have not been consulted about the new laws, which represent a threat to the livelihoods of millions of impoverished Congolese people, who depend on the forest for their survival."

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The Congo Basin rainforests are second in size only to Amazonia. (Map courtesy UNEP)
The zoning and logging plans are detailed in World Bank Forestry Sector Mission reports on the DRC from 2002 and 2003. The World Bank was involved with the development and adoption of the new Forest Code, which is one of several new codes governing mining, forestry, labor and investment.

The bank and the FAO now are supporting the development of a series of new laws that will implement the Code. Both agencies are also involved in preparing a national forest zoning plan, which will define areas for logging, conservation and community use.

The zoning is intended to put an end to illegal timber extraction, a goal the international community supports.

Members of the UN Security Council on Wednesday heard a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC. After the briefing, Security Council President Wang Guangya of China said that members of the Council "stressed the need for the extension of state authority, security sector reform, strengthening the rule of law and economic reconstruction, an end to illegal exploitation of natural resources and to impunity."

But the Congolese groups said today that their rainforest is about to be stripped away by law, and without consulting the people who will be most affected.

Joseph Bobia, spokesperson for the Congolese development organisation, CENADEP, said, “The World Bank and the FAO are supposedly committed to involving the public in major new projects, especially those that affect the laws and policies of poor countries. However, in the Congo, there has been no meaningful consultation with civil society over the proposed new forestry laws, or the re-zoning of land, that will potentially see much of the country turned into a vast logging concession.”

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African logs awaiting export. The international trade in tropical hardwoods causes much deforestation. (Photo by Simon Counsell courtesy Rainforest Foundation)
Based in Kinshasa, CENADEP is the National Centre for Development and Popular Participation, a group which aims to involve large numbers of people in the reconstruction and development of the country.

Speaking on behalf of the Rainforest Foundation UK, Simon Counsell said, “The World Bank must strictly apply its own environmental and social safeguards, and fully respect international laws, in order to avoid unleashing a wave of destruction on Congo’s forests."

In 2001, the DRC was singled out by the UN Environment Programme as one of 15 countries where international efforts at forest conservation should be focused.

The tropical forests of Africa's Congo Basin are some of the last remaining large areas of primeval forested lands in the world, second only to the Amazon Basin. These forests support rare and endangered species such as the eastern lowland gorilla, mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, white rhino, okapi, and Congo peacock. They provide food, materials and shelter for over 20 million people and play an important role as a sink for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

In a letter to UK Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn earlier this month, the Rainforest Foundation has asked the British government to intervene to halt the World Bank’s plans to zone and parcel out DRC rainforests to logging companies.

"The rights and needs of people living in, and depending on, the forest should not be sacrificed in pursuit of spurious economic benefits from the logging industry,” said Counsell.

The Rainforest Foundation was founded in 1989 by the musician Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, in response to the continued violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, and the destruction of the rainforests in which they live.



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