Indonesia: Fire razes forests near Lake Toba

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 1 Jul 16;

Forest fires that broke out in the tourist resort area of Lake Toba this week have been made worse as a result of extreme dry weather and strong winds.

Slash-and-burn activities have been blamed for many of the fires.

Karo Regency Forestry Office head Martin Sitepu said the forest fires started on June 27 and continued for almost every day over the past week in the Sipiso-piso tourist area, located at the border area between Simalungun and Karo regencies in North Sumatra.

He added that his office and members of the community managed to extinguish fires in Sipiso-piso but the next day a fire appeared in Kodon-Kodon village, Karo regency, and on Wednesday the fire expanded to other areas in Tongging village.

“Today is Siosar village’s turn. Various efforts have been made to extinguish the fire, but the extreme weather and very strong wind caused difficulties,” Martin told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said the wildfires were man-made. Martin said during the current dry season a lot of people carried out burning activities in their farms. He, however, said they failed to control the fires, so they spread from their farms and reached the protected forest driven by strong winds.

Martin claimed that none of the residents and plantation companies had been brought to court for the forest fires in the Lake Toba area due to a lack of sufficient evidence to bring the fire starters to trial.

Dolok Sipiso-piso Green Forum (Forsidos) leader Hanson Munthe said the lack of prosecutions was proof of the country’s inability to prevent such fires and that forest fires in the region had been taking place annually but the perpetrators had never been brought to justice.

He added that the forest fires in the Paropo and Sipiso-piso areas currently spanned 20 hectares and the authorities should already know who the culprits were because the sources of the fires were in protected areas.

“The law must be enforced to address forest fires in the Lake Toba region, failing which I fear that in the not too distant future, the entire forests around Lake Toba will already have been damaged,” said Hanson.

The 2015 Kalpataru environmental award recipient Marandus Sirait, of Toba Samosir regency, expressed concern about the current condition of forests in the Lake Toba region because nearly 50 percent of the forested areas around Lake Toba had been razed in the course of the past 20 years, such as in Samosir, Simalungun, Karo and Toba Samosir regencies.

“Around 50 percent of forests in a number of areas around Lake Toba have been damaged due to fires and forest conversion,” said Marandus.

The damaged forested areas were located in Ajibata, Lumbanjulu and Bonatualunasi districts in Toba Samosir, Tele district in Samosir and Gersang Sipanganbolon district at the borders of Parapat, Toba Samosir and Simalungun regencies.

Recently, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited the Lake Toba area and instructed all related ministers to speed up the development of the Lake Toba resort area in North Sumatra to transform it into the “Monaco of Asia”.

Jokowi told the North Sumatra provincial administration and all regencies around Lake Toba to work together with relevant ministries in developing the area as an international tourist destination.

The government has allocated Rp 21 trillion (US$1.6 billion), Rp 10 trillion of which is from the state budget and the rest from the private sector, for the cost of developing the area.

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