|Once a Honduran forest (UN photo)|
Alejandro F. Ludeña
Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, loses millions of dollars annually as a result of illegal logging. According to the European Commission’s Country Strategy Paper for Honduras 2007-2013, the market value for illegally chopped timber is between US$55 and $70 million a year, in addition to undeclared taxes and wasted public investment, which amounts to $18 million more.
This is just one of the ruinous effects of the inefficiency with which the Forestry Law is applied in Honduras, where weak democratic institutions reached a nadir in June 2009 with a coup d’etat. But perhaps it isn’t even the worst consequence. According to Orlando Núñez, coordinator of the National Strategy for Illegal Logging in the Forest Conservation Institute, or ICF, Honduras is creeping dangerously close to desertification. In statements made to the capital’s newspaper El Heraldo, Núñez said the country loses 58,000 hectares (145,000 acres) of trees annually, representing more than 1 percent of its forests.
In Honduras, 80 percent of the land is suitable for forestry. But this potential, far from being harnessed for equitable development and poverty reduction, has been squandered to the benefit of a few. Reports from the National Human Rights Commission, or CONADEH, indicate that for every 2 hectares of woodlands the authorities allow to be exploited, three are cleared, meaning one of them counts toward the dramatic figures of illegal land clearing.
In addition to the criminal actions of timber traffickers must be added the effects of forest fires, cattle ranching and the pressure to extend the agricultural frontier. Another factor less visible yet lethal to forests is the popular demand for firewood. Due to limited electrification in rural areas, firewood is still a primary energy source for the impoverished rural population. Annual consumption reaches about 6 million cubic meters (212 million cubic feet), and 70 percent of this firewood comes from broadleaf trees.
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