Our Passionist Province of the Holy Spirit includes Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG has been a mission of our province for many years now, and we have seen the environmental devastation caused by Indonesian logging companies, who have contracts with the PNG government, who have a devastating impact on the environment and on the local people.
At a recent Province Assembly I was speaking to Joey Liaia CP, one of our PNG students, about what is happening. Joey, I discovered, is passionate about this issue as he comes from a part of PNG where his own people have been impacted by the short sightedness of the government’s approach to grow the PNG economy. I asked Joey if he would write an article for this month’s blog, and he enthusiastically agreed. Below is an account of what is happening from his perspective.
Papua New Guinea is situated about 1000 km north of Australia and it is home to the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Asia-Pacific region. “A two-thousand kilometre long central mountain range soaring to over five thousand metres has created a myriad of microclimates and an astonishing diversity of plants and animals, with the range of vegetation including mangrove forests, lowland rainforest, alpine vegetation, grassland, and savannah woodland”.
According to the ‘Rainforest Information Centre of Papua New Guinea’, “there are 11,000 known species of vascular plants, 200 species of ferns and over 1,200 species of trees. More than half of these grow nowhere else in the world. PNG is home to 700 species of birds, 445 of which inhabit the rainforest areas. Twenty four bird species are now under threat of extinction. PNG is home to more parrot, pigeon and kingfisher species than anywhere else in the world. There are 90 species of snakes, 170 species of lizards, 13 species of turtles, nearly 200 species of frogs, 445 species of butterflies and 250 known species of mammals including the world largest bat, many tree kangaroos and the world largest species of crocodile”. (http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/background/png.htm).
In the last 20-30 years, the Asia-Pacific region has lost most of its tropical rainforest through deforestation. In Papua New Guinea particularly, most of these rainforests were lost through logging activities. Some of the logging activities were carried out illegally, while others, even though they were approved by the government, benefited only a few government officials or so-called landowner’s spokespersons. Many of the poor landowners could hardly read or write, but as long as they could scribble something on a piece of paper, that allowed the company to exploit them and their forest. Logging activities are still happening today in many parts of PNG like Vanimo, West New Britain and Gulf Province.
Deforestation at my doorstep
I grew up in a small village called Bitagunan in Rabaul, East New Britain Province. When I was home for my summer vacation last year, I noticed that something was not right. I remembered very well from the time I was a small boy, the diversity of plants that covered some hundreds of hectares of land and amidst these is a big river (Kerevat) that supplies water not only the village people, but also our small town located on our land. I saw that the biodiversity that spread some hundred miles upstream and into the dense forest had vanished!
The variety of trees and thousands of species of flora and fauna that were very much part of my childhood were not there anymore. I was struck with a deep sadness and resentment at such massive destruction that has been done to the environment; our village environment. The beautiful streams and water holes that supplied anyone searching for proper drinking water or for other household use, have been covered with soil by bulldozers, turning them into pools of mud. This massive destruction has been done to the environment just to clear the land to plant palm oil trees. The Oil Palm Project is mainly initiated by our local government as part of a rural development plan. It is one of the projects the government perceives will add to the growth of the economy and benefit the rural people.
About a decade ago, we lost most of our virgin forests to logging companies who came and destroyed anything that stood in their way. This action endangered the lives of thousands of plant and animal species that inhabited these forests. After the loggers had gone, we began to realise how much harm had been done to the forests and to ourselves. We discovered that the number of birds, wild pigs, cassowaries, and other animals that we used to hunt for our daily meals have decreased rapidly. In fact, most of the animal species that could survive migrated to other places while others became extinct. This reality, along with the recent eradication of precious virginal forests in our area for the Oil Palm project, has caused massive destruction to our mother earth.
Deforestation continues in PNG
The pressure for economic development and material prosperity has resulted in enormous destruction to the environment in most parts of PNG. The country has lost millions of hectares of pristine tropical rainforest through logging activities, unsustainable farming and other economic developments. In the last five years the destruction has almost doubled its pace. This is being driven by the governments so-called ‘Vision 2050’, a dream to be among the top developed countries by the year 2050. In working towards its vision, the government has started major projects like mining, oil and gas explorations as well as agricultural projects. These projects have already had a tremendous impact on the environment and the livelihood of the people. As the country continues to become economically developed it is losing most of its pristine tropical rainforest. Unless something is done to protect and preserve our forests in PNG, we will lose most of our pristine forests by the year 2050. Since we are now aware of the global implications of this activity, this is not only a tragedy for PNG, but for the entire planet.
A Perspective of Developmental Change
Deforestation is becoming a major concern in PNG mainly because little is done by the government and other responsible organisations to protect and preserve our forests. Only a few leaders and non-government organisations are working tirelessly to prevent further damage to our tropical forests.
The government is blinded by its so-called vision for economic ‘change’ and it has overlooked how much the country and its people will suffer in the future if it loses all its tropical rainforests. A PNG musician once said that in order to ‘change’ PNG, one has to promote and preserve what is already great about PNG. It is a beautiful country with diverse cultures and traditions, languages and pristine tropical rainforests that are home to myriads of plant and animal species and a source of life for the people of PNG. The awareness of what is being lost should be recognized, heightened and incorporated into any planning for the development of the nation.
I am deeply troubled at the fact that all our beautiful forests are now disappearing. The magnificent forests and their ecosystems that were part of our childhood back home are vanishing. Our forests are everything to us. They are our hospitals where we go to for medicinal herbs; our supermarkets that we go to fetch food and water; and they are our hardware store that provides us with materials for our houses. Our tropical forests, produced by our mother earth, have everything that we need to survive and keep us happy. Now, they are all gone through logging, mining, unsustainable agriculture and other developments that lead to the destruction of the environment. Our children and our children’s children will no longer see many of our beautiful plants and animal species that have been around for thousands of years. They are gone in the wind of economic change and the greed that seeks wealth.
Most of these children will be born into barren lands and will not know what a forest looks like or what hornbills and cassowaries look like. They will be born into a world of destruction. Their world will be one in which nearly or all of the forests are destroyed, many animals, birds and insects gone, the air polluted and the water no longer safe to drink. They will be born into a planet on the verge of extinction and paralysed by natural catastrophes that resulted from human negligence and short sightedness, in the way we treated our beautiful planet. It is crucially important to preserve and protect our forests and our environment now in order to save ourselves, our children and our mother earth. In the words of Gary Juffa, MP, “We will one day look at our barren land and realize that we have nothing but sadness…only than we shall realize…that in our search for material riches, we lost everything we had, and that everything we had, was happiness”