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Deforestation 'main cause' of recurring floods in Aceh

Jakarta Post - December 5, 2008

Hotli Simanjuntak, Banda Aceh – Despite Rp 50 billion (US$4.17 million) allocated for disaster mitigation in Aceh this year, nearly the entire province remains at threat from natural and man-made disasters, especially flooding, a conservationist says.

"The funds are still for emergency responses and relief and not for concrete measures to overcome and mitigate disasters to minimize impacts," said Muhammad Nur, database manager at the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

He said the province's disaster management was only geared toward responding to disasters rather than preventing them.

"It's still restricted to providing relief aid, such as instant noodles, rice, medicine and even condoms, and not based on how to overcome the issue ahead of a disaster," Nur told The Jakarta Post recently.

Aceh Walhi has pinned the blame for the protracted flooding in the province on climate change and deforestation, which sees Aceh lose around 20,000 hectares of forest each year.

Data at the Aceh provincial administration shows forest area in the province has shrunk each year since 1980, when there were almost 1.5 million hectares of forest.

The number fell to 1.22 million hectares in 1990, before hitting 989,585 hectares in 2000.

The latest count shows the area stood at 877,401 hectares in 2006, 188,190 hectares of which was primary forest.

"This is because the forest lies in the Leuser ecosystem area which gets protection, especially from European countries," Nur said.

The total loss since 1980 is 2.2 million hectares, an area roughly the size of Singapore, and equivalent to half of the total area of Aceh.

Deforestation in the region is attributed to the exploitation of natural resources, helped by lax government supervision, including mining, conversion to plantations and illegal logging.

Deforestation has threatened 46.40 percent, or 714,742 hectares of the total 1,524,642 hectares of watershed area in Aceh.

According to weather forecasts, floods may hit 16 Aceh regencies and mayoralties during December. They are Aceh Besar, Pidie, Pidie Jaya, Aceh Jaya, Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, Bireuen, Bener Meriah, Central Aceh, Langsa, East Aceh, Aceh Tamiang, Northwest Aceh, South Aceh, Aceh Singkil and Southeast Aceh.

If they came to pass, the floods would affect 42 districts encompassing 1,728 villages and thousands of people living in the 16 regencies and mayoralties.

"Aceh will lose its natural resources without immediate preventive and proper measures," Nur said.

The government, he continued, should map out disaster-prone areas as more people were at threat from the flooding than were from the tsunami that devastated the province in December 2004.

"It's about time the Aceh provincial administration responded to disaster mitigation according to Law No. 24/2007 on Disaster Mitigation," he added.