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Paul Pavol, forest defender, wins US environmental award

Paul PavolSEBASTIEN MALO | Thomson Reuters Foundation

A VEHICLE parts salesman from Papua New Guinea who became an anti-logging campaigner won a United States environmental award on Thursday which he hopes will raise awareness about his country's environmental policies.

Paul Pavol was awarded the fifth annual Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism for his work in the South Pacific nation north of Australia that is home to the world's third largest tropical rainforest.

Researchers with the University of Papua New Guinea predicted in a 2008 report that 83% of the country's commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging.

Pavol, 44, a customary landowner from Pomio in East New Britain, said he could not stand by as logging companies caused environmental damage to the land held under customary tenure by his Mengen people.

Glancing at a map of his region, Pavol points a finger to his hometown, nestled deep in the jungle and a two hour walk from the nearest port, saying the change since 2010 has been dramatic.

"The destruction happened right under my eyes ... to see it go down in front of you, that's a big change in a short time," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in New York City.

With demand for raw materials surging in recent years, PNG has become one of the world's largest exporters of tropical timber, according to investment and economic consultancy the Oxford Business Group.

But leasing forest land to logging companies via a government program has met resistance from many of Papua New Guinea's 800 plus indigenous groups who lack title to their ancestral land.

With many people feeling powerless to stop logging, Pavol took the lead and became a protest leader, campaigning, setting up road blocks to prevent the movement of logs, and circulating petitions to build support against logging.

"I go around and talk to the people, and advise them and encourage them and support them," Pavol said.

He said logging companies have torn down much of the forest where generations of his ancestors have farmed, hunted and fished and replaced the ancient trees with oil palm plantations.

Across the riverbank from Pavol's village, heavy machinery loads oversized logs into commercial ships seven days a week, he said. Nearly all of it goes to China, according to campaign group Global Witness.

At the 2014 Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Sydney, Australia, Papua New Guinea voiced support for the development of a rainforest recovery plan, which would aim to halve the rate of rainforest loss by 2020.

But Pavol remained unconvinced and is determined to continue his campaigning - despite his work leading to threats and intimidation to himself and his family from the police.

"They said what I was doing is trying to stop development," he said. "But I said no, look, I'm not stopping development ... We all want development, but no one wants to be landless."

The Alexander Soros Foundation was set up in 2012 by the son of billionaire investor George Soros.


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Paul Waugla Wii

A serpent is slithering thru the rainforest.
Leaving behind devastation and gloom,
In its wake
Mother land is degenerating
into a desolate, barren landscape.
Devoid of the exuberance we used to know!
The laughter of the children is no longer heartwarming.

Arthur Williams

Congratulations to a courageous man of his people trying to stand against the PM's favourite logger, RH, who tok bokis on all PNG people with their foreign language meaning green forever!

The people of Pomio and so many other devastated communities have been fighting them and losing for many years.

The elite of PNG turn deaf ears to the cries of their people. It is bad enough that for lousy bucks these elite spivs sell themselves to smiley environmental robbers but they have no heart for what their treachery means for families of today and children of tomorrow back home in their villages.

RH slithered into PNG in the start of the 1990s along with fellow wantoks doing even the most menial jobs that PNG men and women could have done. They even had imported cooks in log camps because obviously PNG people had never seen rice before!

Many ex-Panguna bulldozer, truckers etc were unable to get jobs working for the loggers. Then with corrupt practices in exported log totals and offshore pricing tricks along came huge profits and so we saw the entry of RH into other sectors of the economy.

And all along no PM, no Forest Minister, no Labour Minister would dare to stop their greedy habits or the influx of wantoks from Malaysia etc.

Just when it couldn't get worse along came SABLs which our blessed PM has vowed to curtail after 90% of those examined were found to be illegal..yet still the caterpillars grub out the cleared felled areas.

Only last week Sir Julius Chan granted an honour to an ex-Premier of New Ireland who has been overtly cosy with RH for over 20 years and his testifying in the SABL inquiry made his people cringe.

It transpired he had allowed over 80% of the land of Lavongai Island to be lost to its people for 90 years.

Paul Pavol, you need a thousand more heroes with you to beat the evil mobsters of the logging industry in PNG.

Michael Dom

It is good Paul Pavos has won this award.

Such awards are meant for recognition.

What people like Paul really need is support - support from every other right thinking PNGian.

So the next time you see a petition or hear about a protest or listen to a politician about logging in PNG, let your hearts do what your tongues proclaim and support him.

Supporting people like him is supporting the future of PNGian. It's easier than we think if we'd only stand together.

Francis Nii

Land is our flesh
Rocks are our bones
Rivers are our blood
Bushes are our lungs

Our livelihood and survival depends on how we use our land and the resources on it.

Thanks to Pavol for defending our environment including the forest from destruction. He deserves the award and congratulations to him.

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