New Roads Are Devastating The Congo

Three leading researchers in Africa — Eugene Dongmo, Louis Nkembi, and Arend de Haas — have produced a stunning picture of deforestation in the Congo Basin. 

The Congo is one of the world’s great rainforests, second in size only to the Amazon.

It harbors an incredible diversity of wildlife, including the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla, among myriad other species.

Road Dynamics

Because of its vastness, you might think the Congo is safe — but it is under assault.

In just a decade or two, tens of thousands of kilometers of logging tracks and new paved roads have cut into the heart of the basin.

We studied the forests and land surrounding one paved road, a 440 kilometer-long section in Cameroon and Nigeria that was built from 2008 to 2014 (using Global Land Analysis and Discovery data).

The pace of change is scary: Red areas show how destroyed and degraded forests proliferated from 2001 to 2014.

Road Explosion

Frighteningly, this is the norm in many parts of the world.  Roads open up forests to waves of lethal human pressures.

ALERT director Bill Laurance warns that we are currently living in the most explosive era of infrastructure expansion in human history.

African rainforests are being rapidly degraded and fragmented.  But the rampant deforestation could have been prevented.

The Convention on Biological Diversity stresses the importance of Environmental Impact Assessments to identify the risks and side-effects from transport infrastructure projects.

Clearly such protections aren’t working, at least not in Equatorial Africa.

Before punching new roads into forested areas, governments need to establish new protected areas, strengthen law enforcement in existing protected areas, and increase sustainable-livelihood opportunities.

Eyes in the Sky

In Africa, a small number of rangers are trying to protect vast areas of rainforest, and real-time data from satellites could be a huge help to them in trying to locate all the threats.

But it takes more than good data — we also need much stronger law enforcement and support for nature and cultural conservation on the ground.

We need to understand how fast things are changing, or Africa’s rainforests will soon be decimated, to the benefit of very few.

There is no time to be lost.  To quote Harvard Biologist E. O. Wilson, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”