Destructive logging spreads in Solomons

November 2, 1994

By Simon Heath

Multinational logging is now creeping in to destroy the rainforests of the south-west Pacific after timber supplies elsewhere in the world are exhausted or becoming protected.

A particularly horrifying example of this is the destruction of pristine forest in the Solomon Islands.

Most of the people of the Solomons live in sustained co-existence with their environment, using the forest for their food, housing, medicine and dugout canoes. The Solomon Islands are one of the few countries in the world still exporting uncut round logs, so the large multinationals of Korea and Malaysia, such as Hyundai, are now targeting the Solomons for their logging needs and are fast destroying a people and culture.

The methods used to gain logging leases are sinister and distasteful. To gain access to a province, they will bribe a government official, standard procedure for such business in the multinationals' eyes. However, at district level the companies must deal with traditional land ownership, which fortunately the Solomon Islands constitution respects.

The multinationals overcome this by taking the village landowner to the capital, Honiara, and seducing him into signing away his traditional forest land with a stay in the five star hotel, prostitutes, alcohol and gifts such as water tanks and fibreglass canoes to take home. Usually even a reluctant landowner signs away his traditional forest.

The companies then move in. Untrained village boys are recruited to perform dangerous and menial work. The trucks and bulldozers destroy streams and forest as they barge their way to logging sites. Entire watersheds are stripped bare. Prostitution is encouraged for the Korean and Malaysian managers. After this turmoil and usually within three to five years, the companies leave.

The royalties for the landowner, which were only around $10 per $500 the company made, dry up. Diseases such as diabetes first creep in: because the forest is gone the people are now reduced to eating tinned fish and rice, if they received royalties. Those without royalties must now either starve or leave for the towns, creating a poor drifting under-class that must rely on "wontok" (friends and relatives) charity or struggle for life some other way.

Eventually even those who did receive the money and gifts (water tanks to compensate for the rivers being fouled, fibreglass canoes to make up for no trees to make canoes from) must head for the towns themselves, creating further problems of overcrowding, crime and, most sadly, a loss of pride that the control, harmony and happiness they once had in their lives is gone.

The Solomons, fortunately, has not had too many villages led down this path and is still a vibrant, healthy society suffering few if any of the ills of Third World countries. However, the government, while putting an end to round log exports within five years is still allowing logging to take place, which within five years will destroy the islands' forest.

The Australian government has encouraged protection of the forests, paying the people of Morovo Lagoon, a proposed World Heritage site, $1 million not to log their forest. The Australian embassy in Honiara in June sponsored a cultural and environmental survey of the island Tetepare, in the Western Province, so that the government would have enough information to place a cultural preservation order on significant areas and thus prevent logging on this uninhabited, untouched island.

The Solomon Islands is at a crossroads. In Australia we can help support a society that till now has sustained a balance of traditional ways with limited Western intrusion. If you would like to be involved, contact the PNG Action Group, which operates out of Sydney Rainforest Action Group's headquarters above Green Books in Liverpool Street. Or write to your federal politician supporting positive moves to combat logging at grassroots levels in the Solomons. And lastly, boycott Hyundai.

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