Posts tagged west papua

Our man in the sky

Shaun in flight © Greenpeace/Rante

Shaun in flight © Greenpeace/Rante

Someone who has taken part in all the research flights our helicopter Tweety has carried out is, of course, the pilot. Shaun (or Dingo as he’s known about the ship) has flown every mission in both Indonesia and during the previous leg in Papua New Guinea.

As a result, he’s seen a considerable amount of New Guinea and is able to draw comparisons between the two sides of the border.

Listen to the interview below to hear about Shaun’s experiences flying over New Guinea. There’s a transcript below.

Who have you been taking out on the flights and what have they been going to see?
Partly it’s been Bustar, the forest campaigner. He’s been coming out along with journalists to basically assure himself of what they’ve been told about certain areas, whether logging is being carried out or whether it is actually pristine forest, and basically documenting that. And also I’ve been taking out the cameraman and the videographer for documentation purposes.

You also flew over the forests of Papua New Guinea when the Esperanza was there a few weeks ago. Are there any differences you’ve noticed between the two sides of the island?
The main differences I’ve noticed between Papua New Guinea and Papua is the huge difference in the population. In Papua New Guinea, there are a lot more indigenous villages scattered throughout the forest and along the river ways. Whereas here in Papua, they seem to be more moved into settlement areas and into more modern housing – tin roofs, straight lines in streets. It was quite unusual, really.

What has been the most memorable aspect of your flights so far?
Most memorable thing has to be scenery – it’s incredible. Of course, Papua New Guinea has mountains and everything, and in Papua you have the same mountains and the same forest, but there’s a lot less logging activity on this Papuan side. But also the coastline on the Papuan side has been very beautiful – pristine beaches, coral reefs, and islands.

How different is it to land the helicopter on the ship compared to dry land?
There’s a big difference. Wind always plays a huge importance, but generally it’s a solo act on the ground – you know where your wind is coming from and you land accordingly. But with a ship, it’s also a moving object and it has to be positioned properly for the helicopter. And then hopefully the ground doesn’t move around too much underneath you with the swell.

So far on this trip it’s been quite easy because it’s flat seas here but I have landed on the ship when it’s been pitching and rolling quite badly. And the most daunting thing isn’t putting the helicopter on the deck, it’s when you’re down and then still be moving madly around, it’s just totally unnatural. Sometimes even now I’ll land and the helicopter will sway from side to side and it makes you think, “Woah, what’s going on?” It certainly is a different situation.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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Video: Investigation Indonesia’s last forest frontier

To show off the most interesting footage from the helicopter trips over Papua, we’ve compiled the video below. It’s narrated by Bustar, who went on many of the flights, and he explains why protecting the forests of New Guinea is so important. Enjoy.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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Lending a helping hand with a little first aid

Valeriy treats an infected leg in the Esperanza's sick bay © Greenpeace/Sharomov

Valeriy treats an infected leg in the Esperanza's sick bay © Greenpeace/Sharomov

Even though we’re here to tackle big, global issues of deforestation and climate change, there’s still time to help out with smaller problems as well. The Esperanza has a sick bay and a qualified medic on board, and in a country like Indonesia there are plenty of opportunities to dish out a little TLC.

Valeriy, our Ukranian doctor, has been keen to help some of the people we’ve met with diagnosis and, where possible, treatment of various ailments. He held an impromptu first aid clinic for one village in Papua New Guinea a few weeks ago and wanted to do something similar on this side of the border.

He was able to treat one of the dancers from the welcome ceremony in Manokwari who had an infected leg and then, while we were anchored in the harbour, he spotted Biryosi, a collection of ramshackle wooden houses perched on stilts over the water a few miles from the main town. The perfect place to help with some first aid.

Examining a man with tuberculosis © Greenpeace/Sharomov

Examining a man with tuberculosis
© Greenpeace/Sharomov

Together with Kelly, Yoyon and Reza (our Indonesian crew members to help with translation) and Dmitri the second mate, Valeriy took a boat over on Sunday morning. The village chief allowed the use of his veranda as a makeshift clinic and the long queue meant Valeriy worked for four hours, examining and treating various ailments. So many people turned up, the house started shaking and the chief became concerned it might collapse into the bay.

Many people had respiratory infections such as tuberculosis, bronchitis and other breathing problems. There were also tropical skin diseases and stomach infections, including a peptic ulcer Valeriy was able to provide treatment for. But although there were several cases of malaria, mostly in children, he was only able to diagnose and advise those infected. Malaria is so common that most people were able to diagnose themselves, but for whatever reason hadn’t been to the hospital in Manokwari for treatment. Money was offered for Valeriy’s services which he politely turned down, but he couldn’t refuse a gift of several coconuts.

Word clearly got around about the freelance doctor from the ship because the following morning, not long before we were due to set sail, a mother and father pulled up alongside in a canoe with their flu-ridden son. The canoe had to be rescued by a passing fishing boat when it drifted away from the ship, but more coconuts were delivered to the ship to say thanks. And very tasty they were too.

posted by Jamie, on board the Esperanza

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Who’s who in palm oil, part two: commercial interests

See that yellow and black blob? That's Switzerland, about the same size as the area waiting to be converted into palm oil plantations

See that yellow and black blob? That Switzerland, about the same size as the area waiting to be converted into palm oil plantations

As we saw from the helicopter flights yesterday, palm oil is beginning to make its presence felt in Papua and West Papua. So far, we’ve surveyed plantations in two areas – Lereh near Jayapura last week and of course the one near Teluk Bituni from yesterday – and compared to the vast monocultures in Sumatra and Kalimantan, these are pretty small affairs. But their presence here is a reminder that huge areas of forest have already been carved up on paper between the Indonesian government and palm oil companies, and will be carved up for real if we don’t take action.

While only 60,000 hectares of palm oil have been planted in this region, the government has handed out permits covering four million hectares (that’s just a bit smaller than Switzerland), and at the moment much of this is densely forested. Palm oil producers like Sinar Mas, Medco, Korendo and Asian Agri have been given the rights to move in and expand their huge agribusiness operations but they’re not moving in en masse, at least not yet.

Part of the reason for their hesitation is the lack of infrastructure in the region, and large chunks of land in their concessions are, at present, remote and inaccessible. So the companies are engaging in a spot of land banking, buying up the rights while they’re still cheap and waiting for things like transport and labour resources to improve before moving in to convert the land into plantations.

Another reason is the current log export ban in Papua which the governor Barnabas Suebu implemented – with no legal way to sell timber from cleared forest areas, there’s no incentive for logging companies to move in. But the lack of resources available to police this export ban plays in the favour of loggers willing to flout the law, and as we witnessed this week, logging does still continue.

Of course, this insatiable expansion wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for the increasing demand for palm oil around the world. It’s used in a bewildering range of supermarket products, not to mention the growing biofuel market. So as well as the work we’re doing here in south-east Asia, we’ve been leaning on big consumer companies in Europe and the US – companies such as Unilever – to put pressure in turn on the palm oil suppliers to stop trashing the forests.

I mustn’t forget to mention the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil which features producers, suppliers, and consumer companies on its roster of members. The RSPO is supposed to promote the environmentally responsible production of palm oil, but weak standards and regulation enforcement mean some of its members (hello, Sinar Mas) are still blithely tearing up forest and peatland areas across Indonesia with no consequences to fear.

It’s a complex tangle and negotiating practical solutions is equally knotty. So rather than descend into protracted discussions that will drag on while trees are being replaced by oil palms, the immediate answer is to stop all deforestation in Indonesia so everyone has some breathing space and there’s time to work on long-term fixes.

I heard an analogy the other day which explains this perfectly. If you’re in a leaky boat, you don’t continue sailing and patch it up as you go; you pull into harbour and carry out a proper repair job. And that’s what we need the government here to do – put everything on hold before we all sink.

posted by Jamie, on board the Esperanza

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Illegal logging discovered in West Papua by helicopter team

Merbau logs are loaded onto barge in Kaimana, West Papua, despite the company's permit being suspended © Greenpeace/Rante

Merbau logs are loaded onto barge in Kaimana, West Papua, despite the company's permit being suspended © Greenpeace/Rant

We’ve already seen some incursions into the forests of Papua and West Papua, mainly logging roads and small camps but also deforestation on a much larger scale near Jayapura, at the hands of palm oil producer Sinar Mas. Then, on Monday, our helicopter team discovered an area where illegal logging was taking place.

The team passed over the Kaimana area in West Papua where two logging companies had been operating, but had their permits suspended earlier this year. In July, the Indonesian police arrested senior executives of both companies – PT Centrico and PT Kaltim Hutama – for violating national forestry laws by logging outside the areas set in their permits.

While the helicopter team didn’t see any actual logging, they did witness logs being loaded onto a barge in two big log ponds (part of a river or estuary near the felling site where logs are held before being shipped out). With all permits for this area currently suspended, there should be no logging activities of any kind, and yet someone was preparing to transport logs downriver. And they were merbau logs, a highly vulnerable species of hardwood that also fetches a high price.

What we saw at the beginning of the week goes to show just how difficult it can be to protect these forests. Without proper management and policing, there are plenty of remote places where unscrupulous companies can operate with little fear of being discovered.

The solution? In the short term, a moratorium on all deforestation in Indonesia – we’ll be in Jakarta at the end of the month when our campaigners will be discussing this with ministers. But a moratorium is only a pause for thought, some breathing space to work on a longer term fix to the crisis. That fix needs to involve governments and funding from around the world, and our Forests For Climate proposal to fund ongoing protection for forests around the world explains how that can be possible.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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Does money really grow on trees?

A palm oil plantation in West Papua, Indonesia © Greenpeace/Sharomov

Without proper international funding, Indonesia's remaining forests are at risk of being consumed by oil palm plantations © Greenpeace/Sharomov

We’ve now crossed the administrative border between Papua and West Papua and, for the past couple of days, we’ve been anchored on the west side of Teluk Cenderawasih, a large bay which cuts into the Indonesian half of New Guinea, helping to create the distinctive ‘bird’s head’ feature. On the other side of the isthmus – the ‘bird’s neck’ – is Teluk Bituni and the largest mangrove area in south-east Asia.

It also features a mill making wood chips from the mangrove trees, and the Tweety team flew over this morning to confirm the mill was still in operation. Further along the bay, they also surveyed an existing oil palm plantation where, although it is still being farmed, it doesn’t look like there are currently any attempts to expand into the surrounding forest. That’s good news, but how do we make sure the forest remains intact? Even if a protected area was created to cover every square inch of forest, there is not enough money or resources to properly enforce that protection and make sure no one sneaks in to start up a logging operation.

The solution is to make the rich countries of the world help fund the protection of forests, not just in Indonesia but also in the Amazon and the Congo basin. It’s something Barnabas Suebu, governor of Papua, is attempting on Yapen Island which we flew over on Saturday, as well as in other parts of Papua.

There, a management plan is in operation which ensures the forest and its biodiversity are protected, and the people living on the island are working together with the local government. The traditional ownership rights of local people are recognised and documented by demarcating the boundaries of their land and to make sure they can still utilise the forest for their own needs, the community is involved at every level of the plan.

A woodchip mill in West Papua, Indonesia © Greenpeace/Sharomov

A woodchip mill in West Papua, Indonesia © Greenpeace/Sharomov

The plan needs more funding though, and the Papuan provincial government is looking to the international community to provide the cash. In return, the donor countries can count the emissions saved by preserving the forest in their own emission reduction figures.

This is similar to the funding plan we have proposed, called Forests For Climate, and we want to see it included in the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol currently being negotiated. The details are complex but the principle is simple: treat the protection of the world’s forests as an international concern, not just the problem of those countries which have forests.

And it wouldn’t cost that much. It’s estimated that halving emissions from deforestation would cost $10-15 billion a year which sounds a lot, but that’s peanuts compared to the $250 billion President Bush is today planning to pump into US banks to keep them afloat. The plan could also start protecting forests very quickly – as early as next year if there’s enough support.

The mechanism Greenpeace is proposing is fund-based rather than market-based – leave it to the free market, and we run the risk of governments trying to buy their way out of the climate crisis. It would result in a sort of large-scale carbon offsetting, where rich countries fiddled their books by purchasing credits for forest protection without doing anything to reduce their own emissions at home. A kind of carbon credit crunch, if you like.

And that’s a crucial point: as well as protection for indigenous rights and biodiversity, any funding mechanism has to operate together with deep emissions cuts through greater energy efficiency and generating clean, renewable energy.

Part of the purpose of our tour is to promote the Forests For Climate plan. When we reach Jakarta, we’ll be holding a meeting with the governors of Papua and Aceh provinces, Indonesian ministers and representatives from international governments to discuss it and get their support. And to make sure there’s still enough forest left to save, we still want the Indonesian government to call a moratorium on all deforestation while the details of how to permanently protect the forests are hammered out.

Read more about the Forests for Climate plan on our international website.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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