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Lush Forests Laid to Waste: How Pacific Islands Got Hooked on Logging

May 31, 2021
The Guardian

The timber industry in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has brought money and jobs — but also pollution, environmental devastation and food insecurity

by Jeremy Gwao in Naórua, Josh Nicholas and Kate Lyons

If Solomon Islands continues logging at its current rate, natural forests in the country will be exhausted in 15 years. The South Pacific nation, and its neighbour Papua New Guinea, are striking examples of the enormous cost of the logging industry on small island nations.

In the last few decades, foreign-owned companies have moved in to the Pacific region, clearing huge swathes of lush forest, exporting vast quantities of timber and sometimes leaving environmental devastation and social destruction in their wake.

Papua New Guinea, the largest exporter of wood products in the Pacific, exported 3.3m tonnes of wood — equivalent to 326 Eiffel Towers — in 2019, a haul worth US$690m — 90% of these logs are exported to China. India, the next largest destination, takes just 4% of Papua New Guinea’s logs by weight.

From a forest in Papua New Guinea to a floor in Sydney: how China is getting rich off Pacific timber

But even as forests are decimated, Pacific countries are often not receiving the full value of their resources. For decades the entire forestry industry in Papua New Guinea has declared just a few million dollars in profit each year on hundreds of millions in revenue. An investigation by the Oakland Institute found that some timber companies had, over decades, reported losing $15 for every dollar in declared profits.

‘A doom covered my village’

Across the Solomon Sea, a striking example of the cost of logging is seen in the village of Naórua on the island of Malaita in Solomon Islands.

Naórua local Houka Kaiasi remembers the island he grew up on as one surrounded by green forests. He and his childhood friends would swim in clear water and fish for crabs and sea cucumbers.

“Mud crabs were just everywhere,” he says.

Kaiasi left Naórua in 2012. When he returned in 2020 he found devastation. “It was like a doom that covered my village. The beautiful home … was all disappeared.

“I never thought that I would see a land filled with dried ground, reddish-coloured mud all over, on sites that used to be … green forests. The land [was] covered with rejected machines and unwanted logs.”