Hotli Simanjuntak and Jon Afrizal, Banda Aceh, Jambi – Deforestation in Aceh has continued to worsen despite the signing of a logging moratorium that prohibits anyone from felling forest trees, a non-governmental organization said.
According to a report from Greenomics Indonesia (GI), Aceh has in recent years lost more than 200,000 hectares of forested areas, felled on a massive scale to meet the demand for timber for reconstruction programs following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the province on December 26, 2004.
"The reconstruction process in Aceh has sparked illegal logging that has severely damaged forest cover. In just three years of reconstruction Aceh has lost around 200,000 hectares of its forests.
This is the fastest rate of deforestation in the world," said GI program coordinator Vanda Mutia Dewi on Monday.
According to Vanda, forest damage in Aceh had taken place despite the moratorium declared by Governor Irwandi Yusuf.
Based on a GI survey, forests took the most damage in areas most affected by the tsunami, especially along the west coast of Aceh, where during the reconstruction process, around 60,000 hectares of forest had been logged.
The worst damage occurred on Simeulue Island in South Aceh, where almost around 44,000 hectares of forest had been converted into oil palm plantations.
According to Vanda, illegal logging remained prevalent in Aceh following the end of the reconstruction program. Illegally felled timber is instead being smuggled into neighboring North Sumatra.
Vanda expressed hope that the Aceh provincial administration would be able to enforce the logging moratorium as well as consider the timber needs of residents living near forests.
Acting Aceh Legislative Council Speaker Hasbi Abdullah said environmental damage in Aceh had reached a point of grave concern, due to illegal logging.
According to Hasbi, if Aceh failed to halt illegal logging, in three to four years time it would suffer massive ecological damage that would threaten the livelihoods of everyone in the province.
Separately in Jambi, Batanghari Regent Syahirsyah S.Y. strongly condemned illegal logging, which had depleted forests in the regency, despite the fact that it is still covered by about 216,000 hectares, which accounts for around 42 percent of the regency's total area.
The remaining forested areas have further decreased due to illegal logging of natural forests. "The practice of illegal logging has worsened and accelerated forest damage," he said.
About 118,000 hectares of Batanghari regency's 216,000 hectares of forested area is devoted to legal production forests.