Earlier this week, Liberia announced it would accept $150 million in developmental aid from Norway tied to assurances that by the year 2020 all deforestation will be stopped in the West African nation. Liberia will accept the funding in order to pay small communities to avoid deforestation.
West Africa has some of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Logging and land clearing have cut the forest to less than one fifth its original acreage. As part of the deal, Norway also will aid in developing forestry monitoring and policing systems, including independent verification to ensure that the goals set forth in the agreement are met and sustained.
Deforestation is common in impoverished regions, as both locals and governments use profits from logging and land sales to maintain cash flows. In Liberia, following a 14-year civil war, land tenure rights and resource management became a priority for the recovering nation. That resulted in the passage of the 2013 Land Rights Policy, which revamped the system of private land ownership.
Prior to this, starting in 1864, if a plot of land did not have a legal document stating it belonged to an individual, the Liberian government treated the land as public domain. Because of this, both legal and illegal logging, mining, and other for-profit ventures could be conducted on private land without any royalties or benefits from the operations going into the pockets of those the resources were taken from. This has only exacerbated poverty in the country, which in turn has increased the pressure on the remaining forests as poor people try to eke out a living.
Reducing poverty isn’t the only benefit officials are hoping to reap from the deal. The current Ebola outbreak may have been an unfortunate side-effect of deforestation by bringing animals and humans closer together, encouraging the spread of zoonosis.
Deforestation has brought chimpanzees and fruit bats, two creatures that carry Ebola virus, in closer proximity to greater concentrations of humans than ever before. And more humans are going deeper into the jungle, closer to these animals, in search of precious metals and materials.
Preventing deforestation during both a major international public health crisis and an economic downturn will prove difficult for both the Liberians and the Norwegians, but the end result will hopefully deliver on the shared hope that the move will reduce Liberian poverty levels and lessen some of the environmental impact that illegal logging has brought about the country.
Experts believe that Liberia has turned to logging as a way of raising cash in difficult times. With the current Ebola outbreak having a significant economic impact on the country, the Norwegian deal is timely.
“Our hope is that the situation there now will be contained and resolved,” said Norwegian political advisor Jens Frolich Holte.
“But we also need to give Liberia a long term hope for development and that is what this rainforest money will provide for them, a long term vision for a country with reduced poverty and reduced deforestation,” said Frolich Holte.
While the Liberian and Norwegian governments are optimistic about the new deal, campaigners from groups such as Global Witness point to the Liberian government’s corruption and authority problems as potential roadblocks, though if the agreement is a success, the entire country could benefit.