Timber and charcoal trade killing Congo rainforest

Deaths, mass rapes, kidnappings for ransom, displacements, money laundering and costly environmental harm are the results of the violent competition for natural resources in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project of the government and civilians, there were 1,655 reported incidents where people were called between 2020 and 2021.

No one is spared in the killings, as innocent civilians, politicians, traders, park rangers and members of the rival militia are targeted in this war of survival for the fittest.

Illegal timber and charcoal trade is a key contributor to the deaths and climate disasters in the region, as failure to pay tax to militias of armed forces can send you to the grave.

The trade, apart from causing the deaths, is a major cause of deforestation, which globally, is responsible for one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. Global forests are also home to global biodiversity as half of the known species and organisms are found in the 6 per cent of the land's earth surface covered by the equatorial forests.

Therefore, deforestation of the Congo rainforest, the second largest in the world, is pushing many animal species to extinction.

Data shows that mountain gorillas, bush elephants and okapi that largely depend on healthy and extensive habitat for survival are already dying in high numbers.

Loss of habitat and illegal mining are the major causes of the decline in animal numbers. [UNESCO]

For example, out of the 1,000 mountain elephants remaining in the world, more than half live in the Virunga mountains. There were 8,000 bush elephants in the Virunga National Park in the 1950s, but by 2020, only 120 were remaining. In 1995, there were 45,000 Okapi in the region, but today, only 15,000 remain.

Loss of habitat and illegal mining are the major causes of the decline in animal numbers. When restrictions are applied to tame deforestation, armed groups kill animals to revenge and take some parts for illegal wildlife trade.

The timber and charcoal trade by armed groups allows for contraband as the militia camouflage highly illegal commodities by hiding them among the socially accepted illegal products like timber and charcoal.

For example, militias in eastern DRC produce cannabis and together with other illegal minerals, conceal them in sacks of charcoal.

Logs of wood also create a good cover for some other illicit products like ivory, arms, minerals and metals. Those involved hollowing the logs and hiding the products there to make detection difficult or bribe their way so that what they are carrying is not inspected.

This story is produced by Standard Media Group and Pulitzer Centre's Rainforest Investigations Network.