|CONSUMPTION & DESTRUCTION
- RAINFORESTS IN SARAWAK
|Yu Tanaka, a renowned expert on international affairs,
in particular environmental issues and John Barah, a leader in the
struggle to protect the lands of indigenous people from timber and
plantation interests, introduced themselves to Peace Boat passengers
with a joint presentation entitled "Forests Destroyed for Shampoo."
Tanaka began by describing a conversation with a
friend who had spent his life defending his tribe's rainforest lands
from logging companies looking to harvest timber for Japan. "He thought
Japan must be a desert," said Tanaka, or else they wouldn't need to
destroy other people's forests.
Tanaka explained that 25% of the timber harvested from rainforests
goes to Japan, and that a large portion of that is used during construction,
as panels to keep concrete in place while it dries. The panels, often
from trees which are hundreds and thousands of years old, are used
for about a month and then thrown away, because it is much cheaper
to purchase them new (around 800 yen for a plank the area of a single
bed) than to recycle. He described how the rainforests in Malta, the
Philippines, and Thailand have been completely destroyed, and mentioned
that at current rates the rainforests of Papua New Guinea and Samoa
will be destroyed within the next 20 years.
Both Tanaka and Barah explained that once a region's rainforests have
been depleted by logging companies, palm oil plantations move in.
These plantations, which produce oil used in many household items,
including shampoo, soap, cooking grease, and shortening, have a disastrous
affect on native communities. Barah described his experience working
on a plantation, which entailed backbreaking labor from six in the
morning at wages equivalent to 50 US cents per day. He described how
such wages often require that an entire family, including children,
must go to work to support itself, leaving no time for education.
As these children grow up without the ability to read or write, they
often have no way to break free from working at plantations, and so
entire generations have become trapped as plantation workers. In areas
where locals refuse to work under such conditions, plantation owners
simply import workers who will, often from poverty-stricken areas
in the Philippines.
Barah ended the lecture by describing recent efforts by native peoples
to fight back, focusing on a blockade of logging roads in his native
Sawarak. Eventually the military was sent in to break the blockade
and 20 tribe members were arrested, including Barah himself. He explained
his people had no choice but to continue to fight, as to them the
land is "our life, our blood, and our culture. If the land is taken,
we have no identity."
/ Peace Boat's 36th Voyage