Sunday, October 28, 2012

Illegal Timber Trade Threatens DR Congo Forests

 taken from:

Officials in Democratic Republic of Congo are colluding with foreign logging firms to support illegal logging, harming local communities and risking the destruction of the world's second largest forest, a report by a campaign group says.

Derelict ports in Congo's riverside capital Kinshasa are piled high with logs ready to be shipped out to China and Europe as part of the lucrative timber trade.

Much of the timber has been harvested using permits signed by the ministry of environment in direct contravention of Congolese law, advocacy group Global Witness said in the report.

Congo's forest is part of the Congo Basin that spans six countries in the central Africa region covering about 500 million hectares, over 130 million of which is in the Congo. It contains thousands of species and a quarter of the world's remaining tropical forest.

According to the report on Thursday so-called artisanal logging permits - meant only for small scale tree felling by Congolese nationals - are being awarded to foreign firms.

The companies then use industrial methods to cut and export large quantities of wood out of the country, while sidestepping the environmental and social obligations demanded of industrial logging operations.

Attempts to bring order to Congo's chaotic forestry sector have seen a ban on all new industrial logging licences since 2002, but this has done little to improve the situation according to Colin Robertson, one of the report's authors.

"Basically this is a new system to get around the moratorium... Officials have been giving out artisanal permits to industrial loggers, and it's created a completely chaotic situation in the forests," he told Reuters.

Robertson said that licences seen by Global Witness - many of them for Chinese or Lebanese companies - had been signed by a former environment minister.

In the heavily forested province of Bandundu at least 146 artisanal logging permits have been issued in the last 2 years according to the report, which also shows evidence of some firms having cut far more than is allowed by artisanal licences.

Local chiefs are paid off with anything from motor bikes or beer to allow the trees to be felled, while rural communities see no benefit at all, the report states.

Congolese conservationists say the situation is as bad if not worse elsewhere in the country, which is home to 86 million hectares of forest.

Victor Vundu, director of the ministry of environment's legal team said they were working on clarifying and tightening up legislation under a new minister.

"It's not surprising, in a post conflict country where the administration has been really weakened, that the state should be accused of not sufficiently controlling the application of the law," he said.

Industrial logging output from Congo has dropped in recent years and currently stands at around 350,000 m3 per year, as companies say that without far tighter regulation they cannot compete with the illegal market.

Congo signed a contract with Swiss company SGS in 2010 to introduce a traceability programme for the logging trade, but they are still waiting for the green light from the government to go ahead, according to Lionel Nardon, head of the SGS project in Congo.

Nardon said they had already identified more than 100 000 m3 of illegal wood in Kinshasa's ports and described the sector as being like the "wild west" in which contraband timber is traded in the port before being transported out by lorries under the cover of darkness.

"The cost (to the Congo) is millions of dollars, and to the forests, it is incalculable," he said.

Monday, September 10, 2012

taken from: 

MBUJI MAYI, DR Congo, Sep 5 2012 (IPS) - Despite the desperate lack of access to water for domestic use in Mwene Ditu, in the central Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonné Ilunga spent a good part of July blocking up residents’ wells. “They’ve dug them in old cemeteries, in newly-demarcated lots, next to toilets,” said Ilunga, head of the Water Resources Research Department in the city, the second largest in DRC’s Kasaï-Orientale province.

 Just ten percent of Mwene Ditu’s 600,000 residents are connected to the water supply network – and even for these lucky few, water flows through the taps only on Monday and Friday. Vianney Muadi, a mother of two in the city’s Musadi neighbourhood, said she stores as much water as possible when it runs. “Sometimes, we go whole weeks without access,” she told IPS. “But drinking water must not be left open to the air,” said Ilunga. He wants to see the network rehabilitated and extended into outlying neighbourhoods, but the public water utility, REGIDESO, is facing severe challenges across the province. Few of the 3.3 million residents of the provincial capital, Mbuji Mayi, are served by the city’s aging pipe network. “Our network only reaches 3,000 clients, and basically all of them are in Mbuji Mayi,” admitted Jean-Pierre Mbambu, head of the REGIDESO’s water works in the city. Pipes are frequently damaged by uncontrolled runoff from rainwater. And even when these breaches are repaired, the utility is often unable to pump water, due to power outages.

The provincial administration has tried to help with diesel to power generators, but this is a costly option – especially with REGIDESO struggling with funding problems linked to bankrupt customers. The many people who are not connected to the grid have to fend for themselves. Dozens of boreholes have been drilled, particularly in Mwene Ditu, and in other parts of Kasaï-Orientale province in the east of the country. People have also turned to rivers and springs near various towns for water. “But these supply points are badly looked after and even less well protected,” said Placide Mukena Kabongo, head of the National Rural Water Department (SNHR) in Ngandanjika, some 90 kilometres southeast of Mbuji Mayi. He said his staff members were doing their best to explain to people how to prevent contamination of their water sources. “SNHR dug 578 wells and constructed 480 water points in eight of the 16 territories that make up the province,” Mukena told IPS, adding that these waterworks dated back to colonial times though they were rehabilitated by the SNHR after independence. Many other shallow wells have been dug by unemployed youth trying to earn a living. “But they’re doing this without respecting standards, making the quality of the water doubtful,” said Kankonde. He also complained about the use of unclean buckets to draw water and the absence of drainage to keep dirty water from pooling around the wells. “We took a dead toad out of our well one day last year,” Adjany Tshimbombo told IPS.

Since then, Tshimbombo, a student at the University of Mbuji Mayi, won’t drink the water without boiling it first. The unsurprising consequence has been increasing rates of waterborne disease, according to provincial medical authorities. Dr. Musole Kankonde, head of hygiene at the provincial health department, told IPS that diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, bilharzia, and typhoid fever are affecting increasing numbers of people, striking children and adults alike, in both rural and urban areas. “In just the first half of 2012, we recorded more than 79,000 cases of diarrhoea and dysentery, with 29 deaths,” said Jean-Pierre Katende Nsumba, the doctor in charge of disease control in the province. Kankonde told IPS that his hands were tied when it comes to addressing the problem. “I can’t forbid people to drink water from wells or springs. All I can ask is that they maintain wells carefully and treat their drinking water to avoid falling ill,” he said. His colleague Nsumba said people in the province are generally unable to afford water purification tablets. “I advise that all drinking water – whether it comes from REGIDESO, rivers, springs or wells – be boiled before use to prevent disease,” he said.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Only Way to Help Congo

Since the end of the country’s transition to peace in late 2006, living conditions in the country (formally the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire) have become the worst in the world, according to the most recent Index of Human Development. Average life expectancy at birth is 48 years, and close to 80 percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day. Various armed groups, including the Congolese army, are committing horrific human rights violations, especially in the eastern part of the country. About 200,000 people have fled their homes since late April to escape the fighting and abuses. The civil war in Congo was the deadliest conflict since World War II, and it created the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than five million people died from 1998 to 2007 as domestic and foreign armed groups fought to control the territory, destabilizing much of Central and Southern Africa. Babies and elderly grandmothers were raped. Some two million people — and as many as 80 percent of the inhabitants of Congo’s eastern provinces — fled their homes to escape the violence. African and Western diplomats, along with U.N. officials, actively supervised negotiations to end the war. In 2002, they brokered a peace deal, and in 2006 they organized the first democratic elections in Congo’s history. To this day, the peacekeeping mission they set up is the only force capable of protecting the population from the ongoing violence. But it has been a case of misguided intervention. One reason is that foreign diplomats, U.N. peacekeepers and many NGOs tend to view the fighting exclusively as a consequence of national and international tensions — especially power struggles among Congolese and foreign elites — and a spillover from the Rwandan genocide. And they typically consider intervention at the national or regional levels to be their only legitimate responsibility. They neglect to address the other main sources of violence: distinctively local conflicts over land, grassroots power, status and resources, like cattle, charcoal, timber, drugs and fees levied at checkpoints. Most of the violence in Congo is not coordinated on a large scale. It is the product of conflicts among fragmented local militias, each trying to advance its own agenda at the village or district level. Those then percolate and expand. Consider tensions between the Congolese of Rwandan descent and the so-called indigenous communities in the eastern provinces of South Kivu and North Kivu. These have roots in a longstanding competition over land and traditional and administrative power that began in the 1930s under Belgian colonial rule. The conflict escalated after Congo’s independence in 1960 as each camp recruited allies outside the province. With the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the crisis in the Kivus took on a regional dimension: local actors forged alliances with various Congolese and Rwandan armed groups, all in the interest of promoting their own agendas. Rather than address these issues, though, international peacemakers have lately singled out three features of the ongoing conflict: as a primary cause of violence, the illegal exploitation of natural resources by Congolese and foreign armed groups; as a main consequence, sexual abuse against women and girls; as a central solution, reconstructing state authority. International programs have thus emphasized three priorities: regulating the trade of minerals, providing care to victims of sexual violence and helping the central government extend its authority. This approach has provided a simple narrative that was easy to sell to audiences and donors in the West. It has also backfired. Perversely, attempts to regulate the trade of minerals — like Section 1502 of the U.S. 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and a temporary mining ban imposed by the Congolese government from September 2010 to March 2011 — have enabled armed groups to strengthen their control over mines. These measures focused on stopping the illegal trade of minerals but did nothing to destroy the actual power base of armed groups. In the absence of any broader political, economic or social reforms, local military leaders have managed to remain the principal power brokers in the rural areas of eastern Congo. In some cases, they have even expanded their mining operations while vulnerable populations lost their livelihood. The international community’s disproportionate attention to sexual violence has also raised the status of sexual abuse in a dangerous way. Some combatants now use it as a bargaining tool by threatening to commit mass rape if they are excluded from negotiations. And state-reconstruction programs have done little more than boost the capacity of the authoritarian central government, and of administrative officials at all levels, to oppress the population. Addressing the consequences of sexual violence and these other abuses is important, of course, but donors should do more to address their underlying causes. Most important, they should approach the resolution of conflicts in Congo from the bottom up. They should assist local groups — official authorities, NGOs and civil-society representatives — with the funding, logistical means and technical capacity necessary to implement narrowly tailored programs. For example, it’s worth supporting the work of the Life and Peace Institute and its Congolese partners. After extensive field investigations in South Kivu, including interviews with some 800 local actors, LPI and its partner Action pour la Paix et la Concorde set up intercommunity forums to discuss the specifics of local conflicts over land and manage the violence. And in cooperation with other Congolese organizations, LPI has helped broker precise agreements among pastoralists, traditional chiefs and state authorities to regulate the seasonal movement of livestock, including by establishing pathways to guide the cattle through the lowlands with minimal disruption to farmers. As the U.N. Security Council convenes this coming week to renew the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in Congo, it should refocus its efforts on supporting grassroots projects directed at resolving local conflicts, especially over land. If the international community continues to address the consequences of the violence in Congo rather than its most important causes, it will only add to the death toll. Séverine Autesserre is assistant professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the author of “The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011