Logging in the Solomon Islands
By Chin Ching
31 August, 2004
Voko people of the Iriri village have been an inspirational development
story for Solomon Islands and community development workers world-wide.
For over the past 20 years the Voko people have pursued sustainable
development and have rejected exploiting their timber resources for
the sake of protecting their environment. Currently, a Malaysian logging
company, Delta is illegally logging their land and the Voko people are
desperate for them to stop.
This is not the
first time that the Voko people have had to face the pressures from
international logging companies, in the mid-70s the Voko people resisted
against foreign logging company threats and set their own sustainable
community development agenda. With the assistance of UNIDO, AUSAID
and APACE-VFEG, The Voko people built and developed a micro-hydro system
that has been community owned and managed since 1983. Using their renewable
energy system the Voko people built a primary school, kindergarten,
teachers houses, 10 new permanent buildings, a sustainable timber
milling enterprise, a carpentry project, a womens bakery, a community
store, a copra centre, a community hall and re-established their community
farm. From the extra income generated the community was also able to
pay taxes for its residents and subsidise 50% of school fees and health
expenses. Their development story has been widely respected and has
become the topic of numerous videos, TV programs, university research
and a national commemorative stamp.
The Solomon Islands is considered a Small Islands Developing State and
a Least Developed Country (LDC, the official status designated by the
UN to the poorest countries in the world). With these many inhibiting
factors, including the recent conflict in Solomon Islands (2000 to 2003)
the Voko people have surmounted huge challenges to be able to implement
and pursue their own sustainable development agenda. Their hard earned
achievements will now be in jeopardy with the continuation of illegal
logging. Already 20 000 cubic meters of their timber is gone. The present
logging threatens the communitys drinking water, food supplies,
building materials and future income possibilities, not to mention the
immediate environmental consequences of soil compaction, severe erosion
and reef delusion.
Below is an extract of a report by Peter Lynch, who traveled to Iriri
in August 2004. Peter reports on the logging practices of Delta and
its devastating effects. Peter is the Managing Director of Pelena Pty
Ltd, which specializes in rural and remote energy systems.
Visit to Kolombangara Island Western Province, Solomon Islands by Peter
Lynch Managing Director, Pelena Pty Limited
On Monday this week (9th August 2004), I visited Vavanga & Iriri
Villages. These villages are located on the island of Kolombangara in
the Western Province of Solomon Islands, approximately 350km from Honiara,
and 15 km from Gizo, the capital of the Western Province.
When I arrived,
I was physically embraced by tearful members of the community. Such
physical affection is rare in Solomon Islands, and the first I have
witnessed in the 14 years of involvement with the people of this nation.
These were not tears of joy they were tears of fear, distress,
and a complete sense of loss & inability to control their own lives.
The reason for the
tears was that a foreign logging company had invaded their land and
continued to remove round logs without the permission of
the land owners in accordance with the laws of Solomon Islands.
The logging had
started earlier this year. In April, a visit was made to these villages
by members of the Australian NGO, APACE. They reported back to their
Australian colleagues who in turn contacted RAMSI (Australian-led Regional
Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands).
One of RAMSIs
main objectives is Law and Order. On 12th April 2004, we received news
that RAMSI had indeed visited the villages and that the logging had
been suspended pending a court case. There was much relief and thanks
to RAMSIs swift approach.
However, my visit
this week could not be further from the truth today. The logging has
continued at a ferocious rate, a member of the community was charged
with damaging equipment equipment illegally on his land
and is now locked up in jail.
Other members of
the community are fearful:
If they fight the
loggers, RAMSI may come and remove them from their family, land, and
ability to fight further theft & destruction.
If they dont fight, their access to food, building materials,
clean water, & future income will be lost.
The situation is atrocious and reflects poorly on illegal logging practices
and RAMSIs particular ability to deliver law and order to 85%
of the Solomon Islands population those that live in remote villages
in rural areas.
The result at these
villages is that RAMSI has effectively stopped the rightful resource
owners from protecting their assets and their property. As a result,
illegal logging operations by the foreign company (Delta of Malaysia)
has continued & in turn allowed the continuation of back-handed
payments between the logging company and bought un-representative
members of the community.
Logging the rural
areas in Solomon Islands is more than simply the removal of logs. The
forest is the resource area for villagers to get:
Fresh water (the mass logging turns the rivers to mud)
Building materials (often trees are marked when a child is born so that
when that child becomes an adult, there are trees ready for their house)
Mass removal of the logs as is occurring in the area of Iriri
& Vavanga is seriously jeopardising the future security of
the local people, and can only result in a deterioration of living standards
and a likely population drift to town centres not a preferred
situation when 85% of Solomon Islanders live in such rural areas.
When the loggers
arrived early this year, a large landing barge delivered a bulldozer
to an area near the villages. The local people attempted to stop it
but were unsuccessful. The loggers then proceeded to build the tin-roofed
houses, install their satellite television and phones, deliver the new
4WD, cranes, and various earth-moving equipment to undertake the rape
of the land.
The first logs were
then loaded onto the landing barge whereby they were transported to
a large ship anchored off the coast. The logs were loaded and shipped
out of the country.
No wharf facilities
required, allowing a direct export from the village, bypassing all the
agencies of the Solomon Islands Government. A no-win situation for the
local landowners or the newly emerging-from-bankruptcy Solomon Islands
Diesel fuel is used
to power the bulldozers and associated equipment. Huge oil stains could
be seen on the ground where engine oil changes had occurred.
At the time of my visit, the logging operation had temporarily ceased,
as the roads were too muddy for logging.
The loggers moved
inland from Vavanga, bulldozing a web of mud tracks as fast a possible
to extract the logs. They then moved north until they reached the Pepele
River. The landowners from Iriri met the loggers at this point. They
set up a camp on the other side of the river to the loggers work.
The villagers built some small lean-to huts and maintained a 24-hour
watch. The loggers also set up a camp where they stored their bulldozers
waiting for the advance.
The loggers eventually
advanced through the river, changing the course of the river and commenced
building an interlaced log bridge.
One of the signs
of the loggers attitude was how they then dealt with the camp
of the Iriri people. Instead of simply knocking down the
lean-to buildings, they dug them up, leaving a huge hole in the side
of the hill, or as it now is, the side of a muddy track.
The erosion was
significant on the loggers road across the Pepele River
washing mud into the Pepele River and polluting the downstream villagers
source of water. Logging has an impact well beyond the round log.
The erosion caused by the loggers roads is in addition to the
erosion caused by the removal of the trees.
How does the future
sit for the kids of Vavanga and Iriri villages when their assets are
stolen, their food supply is diminished, their drinking water is turned
to mud, and the internationally recognised law and order police force
locks up anyone who resists defending such a future?
Time is the issue
here, and the loggers know it. By the time the court case is heard,
the loggers will have likely moved on to another island and bribed another
person claiming to be a representative of the landowners.
As for the villagers,
they are likely to receive compensation of course; itll
probably be what some other villagers received recently on the nearby
island of New Georgia - S$5.00 per head, or about A$1.00 per adult member
of the community.
The people in the
rural areas of Solomon Islands 85% of the population are
grateful to RAMSI for bringing law and order to the capital and some
localised areas. However, their views are rapidly changing when events
such as the above occur. The only way these people can view RAMSIs
position is as a facilitator to the illegal logging practice.
Some video of the
operation also exists. It was recorded on the DVCAM/miniDV format by
a semi-professional video camera.
Peter Lynch 12th
Please go to http://www.apace.uts.edu.au/docpublish/si005.html
for Peters full report as well as for photos the logging effects
in Iriri and Vavanga. If you would like more information or would like
to assist the Voko people, please contact Donnella Bryce, Program Manager
APACE-VFEG at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chin Ching Soo can be contacted at email@example.com