NEW YORK, Sept 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An auto
parts salesman from remote Papua New Guinea who became an
anti-logging campaigner won a U.S. environmental award on
Thursday which he hoped would 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 percent 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 on the island
province of 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
"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
With demand for raw materials surging in recent years, Papua
New Guinea 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
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.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith;
Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm
of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's
rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)