With its environmental crisis, are the trees missing the forest in Laos? – The Diplomat



The overall challenge remains vast despite sporadic efforts to address it.

Laos’ reputation for having some of the lushest and most diverse forests in the Mekong remains under serious threat after a December investigation by government officials found evidence of large-scale illegal logging operations in the southern province of Attapeu, despite recent efforts to end the practice. Laos, which finds itself with only 40% of the country covered in closed canopy forests, faces an environmental crisis with much of the remaining forests unhealthy and degraded.

The scale of deforestation across Laos has been masked by increases in illegal logging, despite reported efforts to reverse the destruction in recent years. A 2015 study by the World Wide Fund for Nature revealed the true scale of the illegal logging trade, with exports to China and Vietnam reaching 1.4 million cubic meters in 2013, the WWF website reported. Mongabay environmental information, a figure four times higher than the national quota and just below. 10 times the recorded annual tow. Mongabay cited figures from Global Forest Watch which showed that 191,031 hectares of forest had disappeared from Laos in 2014, a considerable increase from the 80,543 hectares lost in 2008.

The WWF report named the two neighboring countries as the biggest influences on the industry, saying illegal logging is likely to continue with such high demand and that governments in both countries will turn a blind eye to logging practices. illegal imports.

“China’s heavy reliance and Vietnam’s critical reliance on timber supplies from Laos makes it unlikely that governments in these countries will be prepared to take action to control the legality of imports. Almost all of this import value is likely generated by natural wood [Laos] plantations produce very limited volumes of high-value hardwood,” the report states, as reported by Mongabay.

But meeting demand abroad is only part of the story, with experts suggesting that widespread infrastructure development – much needed in the country, which often tops lists of the region’s poorest – has been accompanied by little oversight allowing for unnecessary deforestation in clearing land for mines, dams and roads.

Like this article ? Click here to register for full access. Just $5 per month.

Entire areas of forests were lost to industry, with the report revealing that Saravan and Sekong provinces had been completely destroyed. The destruction has stressed flora and fauna, much of which is endemic to the Mekong region or, in the case of hardwoods, is particularly targeted. The unregulated industry is also ripe for labor exploitation and workplace safety issues.

The huge industry has proven so vital to Laos and the region that it now plays a part in how the country deals with its neighbours, with many commentators pointing to illegal timber as a major cause of the long-running feud. date between Laos and Cambodia last year.

Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith announced in mid-2016 a ban on illegal timber exports to Vietnam. Although this had the effect of reducing imports across the border in early 2017 to almost a tenth of what they were a year earlier, it is widely assumed that this impact is only on paper. Instead, loggers are believed to be using Cambodia to circumvent the local ban where a similar ban has been less well enforced.

The ban on Thongloun is one of a series of measures aimed at eradicating this practice which have met with varying degrees of success. Widespread corruption is widely seen as the biggest obstacle to completely ending illegal logging. The extent of corruption in the industry was exposed in May 2017 when the wife of Attapeu Province Governor Nam Viyaketh, Seng Viyaketh, was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle timber illegally through the border to Vietnam.

Seng Viyaketh vehemently denied the charges to Radio Free Asia, which followed the case closely, but authorities were determined to make an example of the pair. An investigation by RFA found witnesses who suggested that corruption is endemic in Attapeu province, where loggers can pay up to $60,000 per truck to get timber out of the province.

For environmental activists and Laotians eager to see the forests that once covered the country return, reforestation is a Herculean task. The government’s ambitious target to increase forest cover from 42% to 65% by 2020 is likely to fall short, with locals saying RFA’s provincial targets are repeatedly failing by huge margins, citing lack of funding and manpower. An official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry told RFA that continued illegal logging compensates for reforestation efforts.


Comments are closed.