Global Witness recently produced a short film on industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The film raises an interesting conundrum. “The World Bank and other international donor agencies claim to support the protection of forests and the people that live in them. Yet many donors continue to support industrial logging.”

Global Witness asks how in touch the global donor community is with the reality on the ground, and answers its own question with a quotation from an anonymous World Bank official: “DRC is a vast country. We don’t have many opportunities to go out into the field.” The film was launched at the World Bank’s meetings in Washington DC last week.

This is not the first time that NGOs have raised these issues with the World Bank. In 2009, Greenpeace Africa, Rainforest Foundation UK, Rainforest Foundation Norway and Global Witness sent a letter to the World Bank about the forest policy reform programme in the DR Congo. The letter can be downloaded here (pdf file, 444.9 KB). The letter is also discussed in a December 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Kinshasa, recently leaked by WikiLeaks (09KINSHASA1095). In the opening paragraph, the US Embassy explains that:

In the letter … the watchdog NGOs asserted that the Bank had not implemented several important elements following the conversion of industrial logging titles completed in early 2009, and that the new $64 million Bank IDA Forest Sector project approved by the Bank’s Board earlier this year has not supported good forest governance. It generally raises questions about lack of transparency, asserts a rise in social conflict between logging concessions and local communities, hints that the moratorium on logging concessions has not been respected by the GDRC and asks a rhetorical question as to whether the Bank investment in logging sector reform is money well spent.

While the US Embassy acknowledges that “The Bank has had difficulty managing the reform process,” it argues that,

the principal drivers of deforestation in the Congo Basin,
and particularly in the DRC, are millions of poor rural villagers eking out a living through slash and burn agriculture, harvest of trees to make firewood and charcoal for sale coupled with a lack of any real management capacity over artisanal activities by the government authorities.

The US Embassy concludes by stating the conundrum raised two years later in Global Witness’ film:

Most donors active in the DRC support the GDRC’s efforts to reform the forestry sector as the country’s second largest private formal sector employer after mining and do not see a necessary contradiction between logging and environmental services payment schemes such as REDD.

The new film by Global Witness is based on a series of meetings held this year with 67 communities in 3 provinces. All of the communities are impacted by industrial-scale logging. Again and again, communities told Global Witness of exploitative companies, damage to their ecosystems and livelihoods, lack of development benefits, and increasing conflict. It is impossible not to see the contradiction between reducing deforestation and the social and environmental destruction caused by the logging industry in the DR Congo.

The film notes that the World Bank’s forest policy objectives are to “harness the potential of forests to reduce poverty, to integrate forests in sustainable economic development, and to protect vital local and global environmental services and values.”

One villager told Global Witness that, “Since the advent of logging we have seen no positive change.”

Another explained that,

“There have been no positive impacts, only disorder they have gained a lot from the forest but we remain in the same situation when we compare our past and present life in relation to the availability of game. Game is rare, harvests of fish are poor and caterpillars are rare. The harvest of caterpillars and fish gives us a means to buy goods for our daily life and secure the future of our households.

In return for the vast logging concessions that they receive, logging firms are supposed to build development projects, provide employment and share a small proportion of their profits with communities.

Global Witness comments that,

“Most of the communities Global Witness visited had never seen the types of clinics and schools logging companies promote like show homes. Projects that do materialise are typically constructed so poorly that they become unusable and abandoned. Promises of local employment are also routinely ignored. The few jobs that do become available are short term and often filled by people from outside the local area.”

On villager adds that “We fear this situation risks provoking a war between the logging companies and the population.” There are increasing numbers of conflicts in areas being opened up to industrial scale logging, according to Global Witness.

In a village where people protested about the logging company’s failure to deliver any benefits, the villagers were subjected to terrible human rights abuses by the local police, after the logging company asked for assistance from the local authorities. Global Witness heard similar stories in other villagers.

Since 2005, formal complaints have been made to the World Bank’s independent inspection body in Cambodia, DRC and Liberia. The investigations found serious flaws in project design and implementation, including a failure to identify indigenous populations and a failure to consider the impacts of industrial logging on local communities and their environment.