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Rain forests damaged by Aceh relief

Jakarta Globe - August 12, 2009

Arti Ekawati – More than 200,000 hectares of Aceh's rain forests were cut down between 2006 and 2008 for use in the province's post-tsunami reconstruction, an environmental lobby group said on Wednesday.

Elfian Effendi, the executive director of Greenomics Indonesia, said reconstruction efforts were estimated to have used some 4.2 million cubic meters of timber for infrastructure projects.

The mass logging, he said, damaged 200,329 hectares of natural rainforests across the province, including on Simeulue Island and in Gunung Leuser National Park, which together with the Bukit Barisan Selatan and Kerinci Seblat national parks form a Unesco World Heritage site.

Greenomics estimated that the harvested areas included 56,593 hectares along Aceh's west coast, 44,422 hectares from Simeulue and 67,479 hectares from Gunung Leuser.

"The timber is thought to be the result of illegal logging since it was traded without official documentation," Elfian said.

The direct losses from the logging are estimated at up to Rp 7.5 trillion ($757.5 million), but Elfian said future losses for Aceh could be even more significant.

"The forest damage released at least 50.08 million tons of carbon into the air, leaving the province to bear the potential loss of about $551.3 million a year from missed carbon trading transactions," he said.

Elfian called on international NGOs that worked in the region after the tsunami to now address the damage they helped cause.

"We are not blaming them since what they did was for the humanitarian mission," he said. "But considering the conditions in the field after reconstruction, I think leaving ecological damage from humanitarian projects is not wise."