Fidelis E. Satriastanti & Camelia Pasandaran, Jakarta – Activists on Friday blamed environmental degradation and forest conversions for the recent flash floods in Wasior, West Papua, that left more than 100 people dead, and demanded the government immediately review development policies in the area.
"The Wasior disaster could be considered an ecological disaster triggered by environmental destruction and land use changes over the past few years," said Chalid Muhammad, chair of the Indonesian Green Institute.
"Wasior, which is located in a lowland area, consists of swamps and sago plantations that have been transformed to other uses like mining, which contributed to the disaster.
"Meanwhile, in the upstream area, forests are being decimated through logging concessions or illegal logging."
His statement comes a day after Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said rampant illegal logging could have caused the floods as he had found around 200,000 square meters of illegal logs in his recent field trip in Sorong, also in West Papua.
Environmentalists have long been calling on the government to clamp down on illegal logging in Papua, which still has some of the country's most dense primary forests.
Data compiled by the Indonesian Green Institute and Yappika foundation earlier this year showed that West Papua was vulnerable to ecological disasters as a result of plans to allow the conversion of more than 5 million hectares of primary forests and 1.4 million hectares of secondary forests.
In addition, from 2005 to 2009, satellite image analysis have shown a deforestation rate of 254,460.41 hectares per year in the province – a total of 1,017,841.66 hectares. Chalid said that accounted for 25 percent of the national deforestation rate.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Friday the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) reported that the floods were not related to illegal logging.
"However, this Sunday I will directly see whether it is related to environment destruction," he said. "That way, I could see for myself, and with the help of experts will analyze the cause of the disaster."
Antung Deddy Radiansyah, assistant deputy for lake and river damage control at the State Ministry for the Environment, said earlier on Friday the ministry had conducted field checks on the areas before the flood and found that 90 percent of the forest coverage was still in good condition.
"The flash floods occurred because the steep slopes of the Wasior river upstream had already collapsed and covered the river areas," Antung said. "The slides covered the river just like a dam, causing the flash floods."
[Additional reporting from Antara.]