Hotli Simanjuntak, Banda Aceh – The rampant destruction of forests in the Leuser ecosystem, a major water source for Aceh, has led to frequent flooding in the province.
A team from the Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL) performed a ground check on damaged areas in the ecosystem and found that, in 2018, about 5,685 hectares of the ecosystem were deforested, with the most serious damage found in Gayo Lues with 1,063 ha of deforested area.
The ecosystem, located across several regencies in the province, also saw 889 ha damaged in Nagan Raya and another 863 ha in East Aceh. As of December 2018, 1.7 ha of forest remained in the Leuser ecosystem.
The FKL and another conservation group, the Aceh Forest, Nature and Environment Foundation (Haka), concluded from their observations that the high rates of deforestation over many years caused flooding.
Based on an observation of river basin areas, the highest rate of deforestation was found in the Singkil-Alas River Basin, which covers Gayo Lues, Southeast Aceh, Subulussalam, Aceh Singkil and the neighboring province of North Sumatra.
Singkil-Alas recorded 10 cases of flooding in 2018, the highest among all river basins in the province. The Peusangan River Basin, which covers North Aceh and Central Aceh, also experienced severe damage with deforestation resulting in the loss of 1,248 ha of forest in the same year. Six districts in the two regencies were affected by floods while another three experienced droughts.
The Leuser ecosystem is an important source of water for a population of 5 million in Aceh. It also functions as a disaster mitigation area, preventing floods and landslides.
There is growing concern that Aceh will experience more floods and landslides in the upcoming years if deforestation continues.
"That's why Haka and the FKL urge the government and law enforcement bodies to be more serious in protecting forest areas and punishing illegal forest activities," said Haka geographic information system manager Agung Dwinurcahya, adding that massive restoration was also needed for the damaged forests.
FKL monitoring coordinator T. Pahlevie said there had been an increase in findings of illegal logging, encroachment and forest clearing for roads in the province.
He said that, throughout 2018, the FKL found 2,418 cases of illegal logging that damaged 4,353.8 square meters of the forested areas, 1,838 cases of encroachment covering 7,546.3 ha and 108 cases of deforestation related to road construction projects along 193.85 kilometers.
The regency with the highest number of illegal logging cases was South Aceh with 473 cases, followed by East Aceh with 437 cases and Aceh Tamiang with 377, Pahlevie said.
The regency with the highest numbers of forest encroachment cases was East Aceh with 378 cases, followed by Gayo Lues with 326 cases and Southeast Aceh with 316.
The illegal poaching of wild animals is also a concern. The FKL, according to its wild animal protection team coordinator Dedy Yansyah, found a decreasing trend in poaching cases in 2018 but the number of traps seized slightly increased from 814 in 2017 to 834 in 2018.
"In 2018, the FKL found 613 cases of illegal poaching, a decrease from 729 cases last year," Dedy said.
He added that, from 2014 to 2018, the FKL found 5,529 traps from forest areas, ranging from small traps to large ones for wild animals such as tigers.
He said the FKL team conducted the observation on illegal activities through monitoring and field patrols carried out at least 15 days a month.
"It was during the patrols that the team found thousands of traps set by illegal poachers throughout the forests of Aceh," Dedy said, adding that most illegal forest activities were committed in protected forests, followed by production forests and the Leuser ecosystem.