Warning on Indonesia’s Disappearing Forests

Jakarta Globe 23 Apr 12;

Earth Day commemorations in Indonesia were low-key, but those who marked the day were quick to warn of the worsening environmental situation.

An environmental group on Sunday called on the Aceh administration to stop issuing permits to convert forested areas for other uses.

“We also call for the government to immediately conduct an inspection of all forest conversion permits,” T.M. Zulfikar, the executive director of the Aceh office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said in Banda Aceh on Sunday.

Zulfikar said the permits, which are issued to plantation, mining and other firms, should be reevaluated.

He added that the government should reestablish people’s customary rights to forest areas to ensure their preservation.

Zulfikar said 58 percent of Aceh’s 5.7 million hectares was covered by forests, but that this was shrinking under the pretext of investment, both in plantations and mines.

“The Aceh administration has not prioritized the issue of deforestation and a 2007 moratorium on logging has not been effective,” he said.

Deforestation has led to increasing damage from floods, while animals are endangered by encroaching human development.

“In 2011 there were 57 confrontations between animals and people, up from 19 the year before,” he said.

“The people are putting a lot of faith in the next governor of the province to address these issues,” Zulfikar said, referring to the gubernatorial elections earlier this month.

Walhi’s West Sumatra branch, meanwhile, warned that Indonesia’s forests were in a critical state given the rate of deforestation.

Growing investment in the country has resulted in more demand for land, threatening the survival of forests, Walhi West Sumatra executive director Abednego Tarigan said in Padang on Sunday.

He said there was a need to balance economic development with environmental protection, adding that Indonesia loses one million hectares of forests a year just to oil palm plantations.
He blamed the government for prioritizing the exploitation of natural resources over environmental protection.

These exploitative practices, he said, would lead to greater economic and social costs. Abednego said the worst affected areas were archipelagic provinces such as Bangka-Belitung and Jambi.

He added that reforestation efforts were not keeping pace with deforestation.

However, Abednego said public awareness of the issue was growing, as evidenced by numerous tree planting initiatives, but warned that this needed to move past ceremonial formalities and acquire government backing.