Deforestation in Papua New Guinea

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The island of New Guinea, the second largest in the world, has one of the last great expanses of tropical rainforest. The Island is politically divided between Indonesia in the western part and State of Papua New Guinea in the eastern part. Although much of this area is still untouched, the rainforest is rapidly being developed in more accessible regions. Each year 50,000-60,000 ha are cleared totally and permanently:

  • 50% for agriculture
  • 25-30% for industrial logging
  • the rest for infrastructure.

Approximately 60% of Papua New Guinea is covered by natural forests, 52 of which are classified as production forests (for exploitation of timber, and other products), and 48% for conservation (not for timber extraction due to inaccessibility or ecological constraints). However, up to 100,000 additional ha are affected by selective logging. With logging is conected one of the most important environmental issues- deforestation.

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Deforestation in PNG.
Deforestation in PNG.

Deforestation has been extensive in recent decades and is continuing at an estimated rate of 1.4% of tropical forest being lost annually.It is mainly a result of illegal logging, which contributed to 70-90% of all timber exports, one of the highest rates in the world. Logging companies know that Papua New Guinea is rife with corruption, have generously bribed politicians and forestry officials to illegally acquire logging rights to land. PNG’s logging industry is also synonymous with the brutal repression of workers, women and those who question its ways.

A second major cause behind environmental degradation in Papua New Guinea is the mining industry. The third, and most significant, threat to Papua New Guinea’s forests is agricultural expansion. The country’s high population growth rate means increasing amounts of land are converted for subsistence agriculture.

According to a new satellite study of the region more than half trees in Papua New Guinea could be lost by 2021. National University conducted the study that  found that deforestation is much more widespread than was previously thought, even in so-called conservation areas. The destruction will drive global warming, because tropical forests are an important store of carbon.

What are the impacts of deforestation?

As Papua New Guinea’s forests are lost and degraded, it also loses its diversity of plants, animals and indigenous people. According to WWF some 700 languages—more than 10 percent of Earth’s tounges—are spoken in New Guinea, and there are at least as many indigenous societies. When developers enter a community, tribesmen are often forced to choose between their native way of life or selling their lands. At times tribal elders do not understand that the agreement they sign will take away their livelihood and may spell an end for their culture. They often believe that loggers merely wish to “use” their lands, not convert the forest into scrub or savanna.

Other direct effects of deforestation:

  • Soil degradation
  • Silting of waterways and offshore reefs
  • Loss of wildlife habitat and food resources
  • Loss of tourist potential
  • Chemical pollution of soil and water
  • Climatic changes.

Indirect effects:

  • Changes in human demography with increases in local population.
  • Overtaxing of food, water, and hygiene resources.
  • Dislocation of cultural frameworks and social order.
  • Downgrading of social values and increase in lawlessness.

Emma Kostolanská

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