Disappearing forests leave devastation in Olancho, Honduras. Hector and Romelio are struggling to survive as their livelihoods have been destroyed.

Hector and Romelio have farmed the land in Olancho, Honduras all their lives. But what was once a lush, fertile environment is now barren, and the two men, like many others in the region, are struggling to feed their families.

“Look at this land,” says Hector, pointing to the hillside that was once forest, but now stands bare. The trees disappeared almost overnight, he explains. Illegal loggers came, cut them down and took away the timber, leaving nothing behind but environmental and economic devastation. In a matter of hours, an already fragile eco-system was destroyed.

Struggling to survive

“This soil used to be so rich,” says Hector. “Now it’s dry and tired. My family has lived off this land for years. Today, we’re struggling to grow enough food to survive.”

“Only poverty and a feeling of neglect remain for those of us who live here,” adds Romelio. “We ask ourselves, ‘What will we leave our children? A desert? More misery?’”

For years Olancho has suffered drastic environmental changes as businesses, both legal and illegal, have exploited natural resources for commercial gain. State institutions have routinely favoured business interests over the interests of communities, stripping those communities of the very resources on which their livelihoods depend. However, for the sake of their children and future generations, Hector and Romelio have fought back against the corruption – and won. They joined forces with the local charity Environmental Movement of Campamento (CAM), which is supported by the DFID-backed development organisation Progressio. Progressio works in Honduras to defend the rights of citizens to live in a sustainable and healthy environment, which complements CAM’s human rights and environmental work with rural Hondurans.

Power to communities

Together Hector, Romelio and CAM successfully lobbied for a new law to protect Honduras’ precious forests. After intensive campaigning at local, departmental and national levels, they drew up draft legislation for submission to various government departments. The new law, which was passed last year, gives local communities the power to administer and control the preservation of natural resources. It can’t bring back the ancient forests around Olancho, but it will protect Honduran farmers like Hector and Romelio from the onslaught of illegal loggers. “We now have the tool to fight corruption in this country,” says Hector. “We will not let those people steal our resources again.”

Facts and stats

• The National Congress of Honduras approved the Forestry, Protected Areas and Wildlife Law on 13 September 2008

• More than 1.6 billion people (many of them living in extreme poverty) depend to some degree on forests for their livelihoods

• Deforestation generates almost a fifth of carbon emissions, making it the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, ahead even of the entire global transport system

Progressio is a progressive independent charity with Catholic roots that enables poor communities to solve their own problems through support from skilled workers. And we lobby decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor.

http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/care-creation/stories/fighting-corruption-save-forests-honduras/

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