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The earth is being ruined!
Ketembe (Indonesia), June 20th 2008

The earth is being ruined! This is a phrase that we used several times last months when we were talking with each other while travelling through Southeast Asia. Especially in this part of the world, it is sad to see that the earth is robbed of all her beautiful flora and fauna. It is difficult not to cry one’s heart out.

Let’s start with some factual figures regarding for example Indonesia, the country we are now travelling in. Indonesia is a typical example of a country where everything goes wrong regarding environment protection and management. Everybody in the world knows, including Indonesia, that we can not continue to destroy our natural environments. However, the forests of Indonesia are still cleared at an alarming pace. Estimations tell us that more than three million hectares (thirty thousand square kilometres) of forests are disappearing every year, in Indonesia alone! The flora and the fauna are the big losers. Indonesia has more endangered species of fauna, than anywhere else in the world. At this moment, more than 70% of Indonesia’s forests already disappeared. Presently, we are staying on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and to be exactly, in the Gunung Leuser National park. The situation is not better here. Gunung Leuser NP is seen as one of worlds most important and biological diverse protected areas. It is often described as an ecosystem-laboratory because of its range of flora and fauna. Within the borders of this park, a special research area of 450 hectares is defined, that gets special protection. It is for example not allowed to go there if you are not a researcher. But even this little piece of jungle is not safe. Since 1999, more than a third of this protected area has been lost to illegal logging. But how can we stop this, is the big question? It is a question where thousands of people are working on, on a daily basis. From volunteers of non-governmental organisations to well-paid civil servants that work from their glittering ministry offices. We do absolutely not pretend to have the answer, but we want to highlight some of the important aspects.

The most important cause of the deforestation is the poverty of the people of the concerning areas. These people try to earn their daily living, and are most of the time depending on agricultural activities. And for agricultural activities you need land, land that was forest in former days. This effect is amplified on a yearly basis, because of the growing population. There are more mouths to feed, and people need more land to build their houses and gardens. What happens here is comparable with what happened in Europe in the past. Also we, Europeans, destroyed our flora and fauna. People of Southeast Asia often use this as argument to ground their opinion that they also have the right to destroy their flora and fauna, for the benefit of a better life.

Of course, there are many environment protection programmes. Most western people donate in some way, to one of the many programmes. However, most of the programmes disappear in quicksand and in the case that a program is put in place; they are often poorly funded and enforced. One of the main reasons for this is corruption. Like in most Asian countries, Indonesia is also soaked with corruption. A major part of the money for the protection programmes is disappearing in the pockets of corrupt civil servants or other scum. And in the case that a program is started, the continuity is constantly in danger because the poorly paid people that work on the program, often become victim of corruption. And that is understandable, in a society where corruption is a big part of daily life.

Another important aspect is that people in Southeast Asia only think in the short term, and not in the long term. Short term money is much more secure, and for that reason more important. And that is also understandable in the life of poor people. A nice jeans, shiny motorcycle and modern mobile phone are more important than the future of the children. The luxury to think in the long term is just not available here. Besides that, the demand for tropical hard wood on the world wood market is also an important booster for the deforestation. Most people in the west like to have garden chairs and tables made of tropical hard wood. And even worse, when the wood changed colours after a couple of years in the sun, rain and wind, they like to have a new one. So, only pointing your dismissive finger to the countries where the actual deforestation takes place, is hypocrite.

The solution probably needs to be found in paying the forested countries, for keeping and maintaining their forests. It must be financial attractive, for both the governments and the local people, to keep the forests intact. And than we mean financial attractive in the short term, and not only in the long term. A possible solution is that the world is going to value the production of oxygen. That means that countries that contribute to a good environment, like countries that produce oxygen or preserve their fauna, will be paid at the expense of countries that have a negative impact on the environment, like countries that produce a lot of CO². The money that countries, like Indonesia, receive must be used for the people who have the negative consequences of the limitation of the deforestation. One the one hand the money must be used for short term objectives, like livelihood for the people, and on the other hand for long term investments like education, encouragement of entrepreneurship, tourism, etc. The long term objective is to give people another way to earn their money. Corruption is still an important trap. For that reason, international involvement in an absolute must.

But this is not the end of the story, because a new question is already lying in wait. Do the western people, who have the biggest negative impact on the environment, want to pay for the forests in Southeast Asia? Forests where they have never been, and that they will probably never visit. Or in other words: does a factory worker that lives on the 8th floor of an apartment building in one of the suburbs of a European city, wants to pay extra tax to preserve the forests in Asia? Probably not. And than we see that also western people are declined towards thinking in the short term, in stead of the long term. With regard to this, we are not better than the Southeast Asian people.

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