The rumble of giant machinery heralds the arrival of loggers deep in the heart of the Congo rainforest. For the pygmy tribes which have inhabited this thick jungle for millennia, the sound of the advancing column is the sound of encroaching hunger and the loss of a way of life stretching back hundreds of generations. “They bring with them huge machines which go deep into the forest and make noise which frightens all the game animals away,” says Adrian Sinafasi, the man seeking to alert the outside world to the plight of central Africa’s pygmies. “When the loggers arrive, they bring with them many workers who are needed to fell the trees. They also need to eat and start hunting but, rather than use traditional weapons in the right season, they hunt with firearms and don’t care about seasons or how much food they take.”
Mr Sinafasi, who was displaced from his ancestral home in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is leading a delegation of pygmies to meet the new head of the World Bank in Washington this week. He hopes the talks could lead to deal to safeguard the world’s second-largest rainforest. There is mounting optimism that when the representatives of some of Africa’s most remote tribes arrive in the US capital today, they can capitalise on international outrage over the bank’s plan to turn 60,000 sq km of pristine forest over to European logging companies. Forty million people in the Congo depend on the rainforests for survival. Among them are up to 600,000 pygmies who are engaged in a David and Goliath battle over plans to allow millions of hardwood trees to be felled, many to make garden furniture and flooring for European homes.