The United States has launched an initiative to help protect the world’s forests and the people and wildlife that depend upon them. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs developing countries between ten- and fifteen-billion dollars each year in lost resources and revenues.
But that is not the only cost. Such disregard for the law weakens governments, encourages corruption, and undermines democracy. Moreover, illegally cutting down forests wreaks havoc on the environment, destroys water resources, devastates wildlife, and takes away jobs.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says that Liberia’s dictator, Charles Taylor, “has used revenues from the timber industry, which is now under [United Nations] sanctions, to buy arms and fuel violence throughout the region”:
“In the process, Liberia’s logging industry is depleting its hardwood tropical forest on behalf of a corrupt elite and destroying an important source of the natural wealth the people of Liberia need for their development and will need desperately once we are able to put a cease-fire in place.”
President George W. Bush’s Initiative Against Illegal Logging will attack the root cause –- the weakness of institutions and democratic governance in much of the developing world. Initially, the initiative will focus on the most critical regions: the Congo Basin, the Amazon Basin, Central America, and South and Southeast Asia. In these regions, the U.S. is committed to helping governments improve laws to manage and protect their forests.
“But laws without enforcement,” said Mr. Powell, “are hollow gestures.” The U.S. will provide remote sensing technology to help monitor forest activity. Fifteen-million dollars has been budgeted for nineteen programs in 2003, and Mr. Powell said the Bush Administration would work to find additional financing for the long run.
To be effective, these programs will require partnerships with the countries most affected. Many of the programs will support and build on existing projects. They include the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, which was launched in 2002 and is made up of twenty-nine governments and non-governmental organizations.
As Secretary of State Powell said, Americans “have a special bond with our environment, linked with our love of democracy. It runs in our blood.”