Earth Day 2008: Spotlight the DRC

Instead of the traditional post on Earth Day where I highlight all the things we can or are doing to make the world better, I am writing about one of the environmental disasters we are doing very little about. The issue in the DRC rainforest is directly related to the conflict in the Congo that I, and other bloggers, have been discussing all month. This Earth Day, think glocally and do your part to not only reduce your own carbon footprint but also to stand in solidarity with people who are being routinely exploited physically and sexually so that corporations can exploit them economically. By refusing to purchase conflict timber you are participating in a global environmental movement that turns away from global capitalism and its recent attempts to make Earth Day a consumer product. You are also undercutting a critical piece in the global exploitation puzzle.

The Rainforest Foundation warned this past week that several speculators are poised to buy the rich forests in the DRC where the majority of villagers terrorized by civil war currently live. The DRC has one of the largest “untapped” virgin forests in the region; it is the world’s second largest rainforest, second only to the Amazon. In order to access timber the population has to move, and/or give up their land rights. However, more than 60 million rural Congolese people depend on the forest. Women are the primary cultivators: they chop the wood, collect the plants, etc. to provide for most of their daily needs. Thus it is in the best interest of multi-nationals to continue the conflict and allow rebels, military, and even UN aid workers to target women and girls. Without safety nor the cultivators of the land, exploitation is easy and largely unchecked.

Contest mapping is critical here. Largely Western MNCs have already guaranteed 11 existing logging concessions from the government by undercounting villages. They claim only 30 villages exist in an area that has over 190.

The Rainforest Foundation has partnered with local villagers to fight undercounting by mapping the area with GPS. Their work will ultimately be compromised by any rebel fighting or rape related exodus that occurs during the documentation. MNCs will likely undermine the results by citing similar events that occurs after it. Even if their results are considered valid by the government, illegal logging has been taking place since as early as 2002 and is unlikely to stop as long as conflict continues. Instability and social decimation instigated through the public sexual and physical assault of women and girls, and the murder of men, ensures access. (Many who watched the film The Greatest Silence asked why rebels would intentionally create fistulas, holes in the bladder, resulting in a constant stream of urine, after rape; one reason is that it is a constant reminder of the violence that awaits women not only in their homes but in the forest. A reminder like that is not only a powerful message for social control over the villagers but also an incentive to give the rights to the forest to others in exchange for promises of needed supplies which MNCs are all too willing to make.)

It is estimated 1200 people die each day because of the conflict. 370,000 people, primarily from rural areas, have been displaced to date. 5.4 million people have died.

Another 27,000 die monthly from malnutrition and health problems that could be prevented if the violence was to cease. Not only would the DRC’s stability put an end to new cases of fistula related health problems, it would give them the economic security, through regained control of coltan, diamonds, and timber, necessary to create and maintained social services and programs. Finally, the rainforest itself contains many of the medicines and nutritional needs of those 27,000. Meaning that an end to conflict and conflict goods trading would potentially save the lives of 324,000 people a year in the health sector alone.

Perpetrators (click links for contact info):

  • World Bank – Green Peace estimates that 107 of 156 contracts to log in the DRC were signed after they convinced the WB to intervene with a moratorium on logging and the WB has done nothing to prosecute or bring sanction against those companies or nations that ignored the moratorium.
  • German-Swiss Danzer (Siforco) group
  • the Portuguese Sodefor
  • Singapore-based Olam – Olam is particularly suspect because it claims to sell “sustainable products” and has fair trade packaging
  • Belgium’s Sicobois
  • Lebanon’s Trans-M
  • N. American company Safbois – the article

Many of these companies make false attempts to comply with international law by buying villagers rights with bags of salt and bottles of beer reminiscent of the colonial period. They have also promised food and schools. None of the promises have been fulfilled and even if they were none are equal to the wealth leaving the country. Again these deals depend on the abject poverty that the war perpetuates.

You can also find a list of Coltan exploiters from ABW

Ways you can help:

  1. Educate yourself and others about the rape of the Congo – I have several posts on it here over this month as do other bloggers, you can also read the articles from the Rainforest Foundation, the pieces linked to in this post and the source list below, and the list of information and videos on Black Woman Blow The Trumpted (see side bar for links under “The View from the Congo”)
  2. Donate to the GPS efforts
  3. Hold an Awareness Event and show the film The Greatest Silence
  4. Instead of going on vacation this summer, educate yourself, and then partner with one of the decolonized or indigenous relief agencies in a service summer (see some of the agencies I have discussed in previous posts for a start)
  5. Ask your local stores not to stock any timber shipped from the DRC
  6. Refuse to buy products from the companies listed above and write them to let them know
  7. write your congress person and urge them to pass Senate Bill 2279
  8. Attend area Democratic Debates and pose the question to the presidential candidates about what they will do to stop the rape of land and women in the DRC (partner with the Enough Project if you need help getting started)
  9. Ask your own representatives what they will do to stop the rape of land and women either at public forums or write a letter
  10. Start a letter writing campaign to your Congresspeople for the same thing
  11. Spread the word!!!

Remember, control of the DRC’s resources will not only help put an end to one of the major incentives for the war but also to bring stability in the post-war, ensuring that the incentive to exploit women and girls in the post-war era is also lessened.

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sources:

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