Trouble in Paradise

An Angry Report from Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea's treasures are being destroyed by foreign corporations but Gundu and his cohorts have mounted Environmental Awareness Campaigns in remote provinces and are bringing much needed information to the Papua New Guinea populace.

After graduating from the University of Papua New Guinea, Peter Gundu taught high school students in different parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) for 15 years. He resigned in order to set up the Guiye Waiye Environment and Conservation Group (GWECG) where he wrote, " We saw there was a need for education of the local people on the importance of conservation. We saw lots of foreigners coming into Papua New Guinea, bribing our politicians, landowners, local chiefs and exploiting our natural resources particularly timber, minerals, and fish. Foreign companies exploit our resources at a very fast rate, leaving nothing behind but pollution. A large proportion of people in Papua New Guinea are illiterate so they really don't understand and know what is going on.

"Our group's awareness campaign is very important to inform the people of Papua New Guinea what the foreign firms are doing here with regard to foreign investments"

According to the PNG Post Courier, the Environment Minister called the country's forests "green goldmines" and said "investment interest in our forests and trees is coming from big pharmaceutical companies which spend millions annually in drug research programs while other companies are seeking herbal medicine for natural health cures."

Papua New Guinea Magazine did a feature story on Minnie Bate, " a qualified medical technologist from Milne Bay [who] has the unique distinction of being the first Papua New Guinean to make an attempt at promoting PNG herbal products on a commercial scale… 'The jungle is my pharmacy,' Minnie declared."

Conservation of traditional medicinal plants in one of GWECG's aims as is the conservation of traditional cultures. The majority of Papua New Guineans are subsistence farmers dependent on the land. The rapid increase in population puts pressure on the land. Land that used to be left alone to regain its nutrients, as practiced traditionally, is disappearing, according to Gundu. Topsoil erosion is causing soil degradation, and the clearing of virgin forest destroys water containment areas leading to dried up creeks and streams.

The environment awareness campaigns cover many of the nation's provinces, traveling to high schools, landowner groups, developers, unions, NGOs, women's groups, community leaders, and churches, stressing the consequences if they fail to look after the environment they're living in and enjoying today. "We also pointed out," writes Gundu, "the damage and destruction already done to our forest and the birds and other creatures that inhabit it, by foreigners namely, Singaporean Malaysians and companies from Taiwan, Japan and Korea who are cutting our forest rapidly without following the proper agreements set out by the landowners, provincial governments, and the national government.

"These Asians don't even plant trees to replace the ones they have cut down; mining companies don't even show respect for the landowners but dump chemical waste in rivers depriving those who depend on the river for food of their livelihood….Most of the educational institutions we visited told us they're worried that there will be nothing left for future generations. They said the Papua New Guinea government should try to control the flow of foreigners who only come to exploit our resources for their own benefit.

"In March 1999, we conducted our awareness campaign in three districts of Morobe Province; all have logging firms there cutting timber. These companies have recently gone over the boundary and have not paid the landowner's royalties. Nearly everyone, including the village chiefs, landowners, councillors and some educated elites in the area supported our campaign and even talked about taking the Asian companies to court to get them deported from Papua New Guinea!"

Next GWECG went to Madang, a province known for its beautiful beach island, rivers and forest, but now the beach has been polluted, their forests cut down and their rivers polluted. The giant Japanese Wood Chin Mill generates unhealthy amounts of smoke and dust and pressures their workers to labor long hours for low wages, in bad conditions.

"We spent four weeks in Madang," Gundu continues, "because the local land owners invited us to their villages to do campaigns for the rural villagers and give them advice on how to protect their environment before it's used up by foreigners. We conducted our awareness campaign in Gogol where they're doing a reforestation and nursery project, and at Sagalau Teachers' College, Madang Market, Divine Word Institute, Tusbab High School, Sek Station, Fidelis College, Madang Paramedical College, Yumba Health Science College, Plantation Hotel, North Coast Madang and Bogia Station. The NGO's in the area provided accommodation for our group during our stay.

"We would like to go back to Madang Province this year as soon as we get some funding for this program. We want to bring the attention of the Provincial Government, local level government, resource developers, landowners, and NGO's to our campaign for protection of the environment." In conclusion, Peter Gundu writes, "I have seen great damage done to Papua New Guinea's rivers, wildlife, ocean, and forests with my own eyes, and I will still speak out against this destruction until the foreigners listen and do the right thing. Today they are aware of our environment group; the community is also with us so our efforts will have weight."