Friday, 3 August 2012

Liberia's hasty forest sell-off risks more conflict

More than half of Liberia's forests have been granted to logging companies according to figures released to the Guardian from Global Witness – and all of the contracts have been issued during Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government. "What we've seen over at least the past 18 months is an explosion of logging concessions," said Jonathan Gant, policy adviser at Global Witness.

More than 40% of the Upper Guinea rainforest is in Liberia. Rich, dense forest packed with rare and endangered species sprawls for hundreds of miles over the small coastal country. Sapo National Park, one of three protected areas in Liberia, contains more than 40 endangered species including the pygmy hippo, forest elephant, golden cat and western chimpanzee.

After 14 years of civil war, during which the country was stripped of roads, electricity, hospitals and schools, the revenue from logging concessions is crucial for rebuilding the country. But Global Witness has found evidence that huge swaths of land are being relinquished to logging companies without adherence to local regulations or laws. Most of this land is virgin rainforest.

Conflict timber became the main source of funding for the former president, Charles Taylor, during the war, after the UN imposed sanctions on importing Liberian diamonds in 2001. Despite this, Liberia still has an abundance of forest. Global Witness calculates that, since 2008, 2.4m hectares (5.9m acres) of the country's 4.4m hectares of forest have been granted to logging companies – around 55%.

Logging exports resumed in 2010, after a UN timber ban was lifted in 2006, and are expected to increase as dredging companies deepen the ports in Monrovia and Greenville in the south-east.

To read the rest of this article please click on this link to the Guardian's website.

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