Theo Kelen, Jayapura, Jubi – In the past ten years, 700,000 hectares of Papua's forests have been damaged, Forest and Plantation Campaign Manager of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) Uli Arta Siagian said.
Siagian said that according to Global Forest Watch records, the largest forest destruction occurred in Merauke Regency, where an area of 112,000 hectares of forest was damaged due to various permits for land clearing for oil palm, industrial plantation forests, and food barn programs. Most of the forest destruction outside Merauke is caused by various investment permits in Papua.
Natural forests in Papua and West Papua provinces are one of the "lungs of the earth", with an area of 33.7 million hectares, or the equivalent of 81 percent of the land. However, natural forests in the two provinces have become targets of forest clearing for oil palm, industrial plantation forests, and food barn projects.
"In Papua and West Papua, the palm oil cover alone has reached 158,821 hectares," said Siagian in the workshop titled "Impacts of Deforestation and Climate Change on International Communities and Indigenous Peoples" in Jayapura City on Saturday, December 11, 2021.
As a result, Siagian said, at least 161,114 indigenous peoples who live and depend on forest products have lost their livelihoods and hunting grounds. Deforestation also results in the extinction of animals and plants, causing global warming and climate change. Climate change triggers extreme weather that causes floods and landslides.
"When the environment is damaged, the rights of [indigenous] people are revoked. We need a policy from the government that restores people's rights," he said.
He further said the state must immediately restore the rights of indigenous peoples in Papua to occupy their customary forests. This can be done through the passing of the Indigenous Peoples Bill into law, issuing policies that protect the indigenous people and their living spaces.
The government, he said, should also conduct environmental audits and evaluate various forest clearing permits. "Stop giving permits for large-scale expansion in the name of growth and development," he said.
Workshop participant Erlina complained about the massive destruction of forests in Papua. She said forest ecology and biodiversity students have lost their learning forests in Jayapura City.
Erlina, who is a student at the Cenderawasih University's Biology Department, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, said that students had to go all the way to Sentani to learn about plants. "Because the learning forests in the campus environment have been replaced with buildings. We students have to take a long trip to study plants," she said.