Hotli Simanjuntak, Pidie, Aceh – Uncontrolled illegal logging has been blamed for a flash flood in Tangse district, Pidie regency, Aceh, on Thursday evening. The flood waters killed at least 12 people and displaced hundreds of families.
"It's undeniable that the disaster was caused by illegal logging and land clearing activities in the region," Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Aceh branch executive director Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar said on Sunday.
Illegal logging activities became increasingly widespread in the region following the 2004 tsunami and the subsequent peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). This reportedly led to the increase in the need for wood for reconstruction purposes.
Timber has been logged illegally from mountainous regions in Pidie, including Geumpang, Tangse and Mane districts. Police have frequently seized trucks transporting illegal logs, but others have avoided detection.
"This only shows that the forest rangers' surveillance activities in the regions are still weak," Zulfikar said.
The Tangse disaster management team has still been unable to assess the impacts in a number of isolated areas. "Mud and logs are still covering the primary access to those regions, although we have deployed heavy equipment to help clear the road," Pidie administration secretary Irawan said on Sunday.
Among the villages still isolated following the implications of the flood are Blang Pandak and Krueng Meriam, which are located some 16 kilometers from the Tangse capital and are sandwiched between remote hilly areas.
No information regarding the exact number of fatalities has been made available so far, although seven victims were initially reported. The number later increased to 12 as more bodies were found under debris.
"We cannot give the exact number of victims for the time being. We are still collecting data," Pidie Deputy Regent Nazir Adam said.
Search and rescue activities were still underway, involving military personnel, police, volunteers and the local community. The search activities have mostly focused on log piles, layers of mud, rubble and river systems.
Survivors are either taking shelter at relatives' houses or staying in refugee posts. Aceh Disaster Management Agency head Asmadi Syam reported that the flood had destroyed seven bridges, six irrigation facilities, 50 hectares of rice fields, 6 kilometers of regency road, two school buildings and two Islamic boarding schools buildings.