Indonesia: Toba Lake hills prone to landslides due to alleged illegal logging - Walhi

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 8 Jan 19;

Debris from the landslides feared to have been caused by illegal logging practices have for several times covered Siduadua Bridge on the Trans Sumatra highway in Sibaganding subdistrict, Simalungun regency, North Sumatra.

For almost three weeks since Dec. 18 last year, when the first landslide hit, the traffic on the bridge that connects Pematang Siantar and the renowned tourist resort Lake Toba was disturbed by the debris, forcing thousands of travelers to seek for alternative routes by crossing the lake.

Only since Sunday that the traffic has returned to normal again after a joint team cleared the debris that amounted to over 100 tons in weight.

Executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) North Sumatra branch, Dana Prima Tarigan, said that landslide remained a major threat to the forest area around Lake Toba hills due to rampant illegal logging practices.

“People living around Lake Toba area, including those in Sibaganding, have to be cautious because more landslides can hit at any time,” Dana told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

He assured that landslides which had often affected the Siduadua Bridge in Sibaganding were not merely caused by rain. He mentioned as an example a landslide which happened by the end of last year which was not proceeded by rain.

He said Walhi had often received reports from locals regarding illegal logging activities in Sibaganding. Trucks were reportedly going in and out of the protected forests, carrying trunks.

“Relevant government agencies and law enforcers should take a firm action against the illegal practices,” said Dana.

North Sumatra Police Chief Insp. Gen. Agus Andrianto said that the police had not yet known for sure what was behind the frequent landslides in Lake Toba area. “We are currently investigating it,” he said.

North Sumatra Tourism Agency’s marketing division head Muchlis said landslides had seriously affected the tourism industry. He said the number of tourist visits dropped by 30 percent since the landslide debris covered the access road to Lake Toba.

“If continued, [landslides] will create a new problem for the Lake Toba tourism,” Muchlis told the Post.

The first landslide on Dec. 18 in Sibaganding occurred at about 4:45pm, covering several vehicles. No fatalities were reported in the incident.

Another landslide occurred on Dec. 30 at the same spot, followed by a bigger landslide two days later, blocking access to Parapat, Lake Toba.

Muchlis feared that a big water reservoir on top of the hill could also come crashing down.

“This is dangerous. We want to settle this soon,” he said.

Previously, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) predicted that hydrometeorological disasters such as floods, landslides and puting beliung (small tornadoes) will continue to dominate and make up about 95 percent of total disasters this year.

Deforestation and damage to watersheds have contributed to the increasing number of hydrometeorological disasters over the years. The high level of critical land, which the Forestry and Environment Ministry defines as land that has an ecologically reduced function, is also a contributing factor. (swa)