Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part VI

Part VI: The Jakarta Post warned of continued illegal logging in the rainforest a month before the mining story broke

Aceh draft bylaw risks forests, say activists
--The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Thu, March 14 2013, 8:04 AM

[The highlights are mine.]
Environmental activists have called on the government to review the draft spatial planning bylaw proposed by the Aceh administration, which they say is putting the province’s protected forests at risk

Farwiza of the Koalisi Peduli Hutan Aceh (Coalition of Aceh Rainforest Movement) said that the new spatial planning bylaw, known as RTRW, would allow the conversion of around 1.2 million hectares of the existing 3.78 million hectares of protected forests into plantations.

The draft bylaw, which was prepared under newly elected Governor Zaini Abdullah, would reduce the total protected forest level from about 68 percent to 45 percent of the total land. The proposal has been submitted to the Forestry Ministry for approval.

Farwiza said the RTRW also included a plan to construct a road network throughout protected forests in Aceh, with a total area of 554,928 hectares of land.

“The road will only connect less than two percent of the population, which mainly lives in the northern part of the region that isn’t covered by the road network,” Fawriza said in a press conference on Wednesday. “The road network will put the rest of the population at stake.”

The coalition’s Efendi Isma said the proposed spatial plan failed to consider the interests of local communities.
“The Aceh provincial government urged the central government to approve the bylaw based on the argument that it would boost Aceh’s economy, when in fact it is purely to accommodate business interests,” Efendi said.
He said most companies, including palm oil plantations and logging concessions that had secured operational permits (HGU) in Aceh, were foreign companies.

Separately, Graham F. Usher, landscape protection specialist of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said that the plan also placed the Leuser Ecosystem, the home of terrestrial flora and fauna, under threat. Gunung Leuser National Park covers an area of 623,987 hectares, taking in both lowland and mountainous forests in Aceh.

Leuser is the only ecosystem in the world where all endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants, live in one place,” Usher said. “The road network will give access to people who want to open up protected forests and hunt endangered species,” he said.
Usher said Aceh was Sumatra’s last hope of forest conservation and that the current number of rhinos left in Aceh was under 200.

“Aceh has the most complete spatial data, a result of the hard work of international and local aid groups after the tsunami. It’s so frustrating to know that the administration has ignored this data and has proposed this plan,” he said.

As the 2002 article, below, demonstrates, Jakarta had little sympathy for refugees from the conflict, and blamed early deforestation on families from Aceh Timur who fled their homes and re-settled to the south, in another part of the Leuser ecosystem.  I can’t help but note that in 2002 when Acehnese were occupying the forest it was an environmental crime, but today, when mining, petroleum and palm oil interests are in Aceh causing more and irreversible damage, government officials call it “strengthening the economy” and “good business practice.”  The highlights are mine.

Logging blitz threatens N. Sumatra Leuser forest
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 03/12/2002 7:18 AM | National
Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) in North Sumatra province is facing further degradation, as illegal logging and occupation of land in this protected forest by Acehnese refugees has continued unchecked.

At least 3,000 hectares of land inside the forest are currently occupied by around 700 families from the neighboring restive province of Aceh, who are using it as a resettlement area and for agriculture.

The occupied land is located in Sei Lepan and Besitang subdistricts in Langkat regency, North Sumatra.

The Consortium to Safeguard the Leuser Forest and Ecosystem Zone (KP-HAKEL), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) concerned with the protected park, said the refugees, mostly from East Aceh regency, began to seize the land illegally in early 2001.

Initially they came in small groups but their numbers later swelled due to the absence of security guards preventing the illegal intrusion.

Deni Purba, a Consortium activist, said not all the settlers were Acehnese refugees but land speculators from Langkat and Medan, involved in clearing the protected forest since the 1980s.

He said that based on findings of the Consortium, which oversees 30 NGOs dealing with environmental affairs, the speculators have played a significant role in encouraging Acehnese refugees to settle there in the former's own interest.

The existence of the refugees, who now total 1000 families, has brought economic fortune to the speculators as they have ready access to a pool of labor to assist in the illegal logging.

The speculators have sold two hectares of land in the Leuser forest at Rp 2 million to Rp 4 million to each refugee family, who may pay for it in installments.

With a down payment of only Rp 50,000, a refugee family can acquire two hectares of land and repay its monthly installments from the illegal logging income.

""In such a way, land speculators can tie refugees in to the illegal logging process,"" Deni told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

In an effort to curb the continued onslaught on the protected forest, the Consortium urged the central government to immediately intervene in resettling refugees to more appropriate areas and take firm action against the speculators.  [Note: ending the conflict so they can go home is apparently not an option.]

The refugees fled their homes in East Aceh following the unabated fighting between government troops and armed members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Last September, the Leuser management authorities managed to relocate at least 154 refugee families from the forest to Riau province. But the relocation effort seemed to grind to a halt without good reason.

Heri Wahyudi, coordinator of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JSC) -- who serves as a volunteer for the refugees -- said the ill-fated Acehnese were willing to be resettled to other areas, except for their home province.

He confirmed that local illegal loggers had been exploiting the refugees purely for their own benefit. "It has already become public knowledge that the existence of refugees here is advantageous to many speculators," he told the Post on Saturday in his JSC office, Medan.

The Acehnese refugees were indeed aware that what they had been doing was in breach of the law. "So far, they are not afraid of possible sanction by the authorities. They are prepared to face any risk," Heri said.

I want to know if any of these families ever had the chance to come home.

Next: The Leuser Foundation and its Recent Projects

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