Risking it all

The Loggers Skirting Danger in Borneo’s Rainforest

Loggers in Borneo struggle to transport giant wood logs on treacherous narrow forest trails and dangerous rivers.

In Borneo, home to one of the last remaining primary forests in Southeast Asia, wood means money.

The rainforest – with its abundant resources – is shared by three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei; and harvesting trees has become one of the only sources of income for many.

Lumberjacks and drivers from across the region come to the rainforest to make a living. But on each assignment, they spend close to a year living in the forest – far away from their families.

Yusuf, a woodcutter who has a decade of experience navigating the unpredictable terrain, earns about $500 a month, “enough to live off” and enough to send money back home to his wife and his five-year-old son. With his salary, Yusuf has also been able to build a house, buy land and plant oil palms, he says.

These deep gorges are the most dangerous thing in the forest. The real risk are the precipices. They're terrifying.

by Yusuf, logger

While the industry may be providing much-needed jobs, it is also leading to the complete devastation of the rainforest. Conservationists describe the cutting down and sale of the giant wood logs as an “ecological massacre” with forestry companies earning the most profit.

“As long as there is still wood, we will cut it. But the forest is disappearing,” says Yusuf. “As long as there are trees, we’ll still have work. Even if we really know, we shouldn’t cut down the forest.”

Cutting trees, however, is the easiest aspect of their job. The risk starts when they need to transport the giant wood logs on slippery roads to the riverbank – using huge trucks and bulldozers to manoeuvre the muddy forest tracks.

“These deep gorges are the most dangerous thing in the forest. The real risk are the precipices. They’re terrifying. If the brakes fail, you have to jump out while the vehicle is still moving. It doesn’t bear thinking about – trucks have completely overturned in them,” Yusuf says.

Each new track through the rainforest brings its own unknown dangers. According to the drivers, there have never been any deaths, but many injuries. Each one of them accepts the risks as an occupational hazard.

“Danger is part of my job. It’s how I make a living,” says Yusuf.

After 10 hours of driving and logging the men are exhausted. Deep in the rainforest, temperatures average around 30 degrees Celsius, with humidity at a suffocating 80 percent.

“We dream of saving up enough money to get out of here,” says another logger. “We don’t want to stay here in the jungle forever.”

Borneo - Risking it all
A woodcutter in Borneo directs the truck transporting his accommodation while on assignment [Al Jazeera]