The last uncontacted Indians outside Amazonia are running out of forest to hide in, say campaigners, as alarming new photos reveal rampant, illegal destruction of their territory.
In a landmark court decision a judge has slapped a logging company with a nearly $100 million (K225.5 million) fine for large-scale illegal logging. Last week, Malaysian timber company, Concord Pacific, was sentenced to pay four forest tribes for environmental destruction in the first ruling of its kind for Papua New Guinea.
"The damages done is immeasurable. The logging operations has completed destroyed the lives of the people and has had great impact especially on women and children," reads the 42-page court judgement, which sought statements of 1,800 tribal members and four environmental experts. The court cited environmental effects from the logging including erosion, flooding, loss of food gardens, and a decline in hunting animals.
"This was an extremely vulnerable and untouched forest area and the land owners, local clans, are now left with the problem of major environmental damage," said Kenn Mondiai of Papua New Guinea Eco-Forestry Forum in a press release. "The local communities are highly reliant on the forest and the land which they cultivate. This widespread environmental destruction thus has a major impact on them".
Concord Pacific was granted a 'road-line clearance' in 1994, which allowed the company to clearcut forests 40 meters to either end of the determined road. Instead the company went ahead and cleared 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) on either side of the road line, 500 times the amount allotted.
"This is a major victory and it will serve as a powerful warning to other logging companies in Papua New Guinea," says Damien Ase, lawyer and director of Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR), who brought the charges against Concord Pacific. CELCOR says that the case sets a new precedence for logging companies in a country that is experiencing large-scale deforestation.
"This is one of perhaps eight cases that we have, so we are still pursuing the other seven cases. Now that we have set a precedent, we feel that the other cases look good so we can base our demands on the current case that we've won," Harrison Owage, Pprogram director of CELCOR told Radio Australia.
The four tribes who won the case are the Kuni, Pare, Zimakana, and Yonhom. However, a press release from Rainforest Foundation Norway, which partners with CELCOR predicts that it is likely Concord Pacific will attempt to avoid paying the fine by deregistering and disappearing.
"It is highly likely that [...] the land owners will never see any of the money," admits Lars Løvold, Director of Rainforest Foundation Norway. "The message this judgement sends out to other timber companies, however, is very clear-any future destructive logging operations in Papua New Guinea comes with a huge price tag."
The road, which the logging company received the forest clearance permit, has fallen in disrepair and is no longer passable.
While most of the attention on deforestation has been focused on Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia, forests in Papua New Guinea have been quietly disappearing. A study in 2008 found that nearly a quarter of the country's forests were degraded or lost between 1972 and 2002, a number far higher than researchers anticipated.
Chatham House is assessing the scale and effectiveness of the response to illegal logging and the related trade around the world. Full details of this work, including analysis and data, will be available online soon.