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SOS Rhino : In the News : Deadly Indonesia flood is latest disaster linked to rampant illegal logging
 

Deadly Indonesia flood is latest disaster linked to rampant illegal logging

  JAKARTA (AFP) Nov 04, 2003
A flash flood that killed at least 83 people in North Sumatra is just the latest Indonesian natural disaster linked to illegal logging and environmental devastation, an activist said Tuesday.

"Eighty-five percent of (natural) disasters in Indonesia are the result of environmental destruction," Longgena Ginting, executive director of the Walhi environmental watchdog, told AFP.

Illegal logging is one cause of that destruction, he said, and it was an indirect cause of Sunday night's flash flood.

"Across Indonesia 80 percent of logging is illegal," Ginting said.

A report last year by the World Resources Institute, Global Forest Watch, and Forest Watch Indonesia Reports said Indonesia was losing nearly two million hectares (4.94 million acres) of forest annually -- an area half the size of Switzerland.

Forest cover fell from 162 million hectares in 1950 to only 98 million hectares in 2000, they said.

Five foreigners were among the dead when a swollen river burst its banks, sweeping away homes and tourist cottages in the town of Bahorok on the eastern fringes of Gunung Leuser national park.

"It's true in that area there is uncontrolled illegal logging," Ginting said. "Twenty-two percent of that ecosystem is already destroyed."

However, his organization is still studying the exact cause of the disaster.

Hundreds of logs were carried along by the swollen river and smashed into buildings in the town.

Indonesia's environment ministry said it may launch an investigation.

Enda Hartanta Bangun, an engineer assessing the damage, said heavy rain since September in the area was partly to blame but he also cited illegal logging as a cause.

"This is not a pure natural disaster," Bangun said.

Amiruddin 57, a member of a local search and rescue team, said the tragedy "is clearly caused by illegal logging because I have been travelling around this area for years and spotted numerous illegal activities."

Syamsul Arifin, the local government head, directly blamed illegal logging inside the national park where he said 40,000 hectares of forest has been destroyed over 10 years.

"The felling of forests by businessmen has been allegedly backed by (military) officers so it has continued unhindered," he said, as quoted by the state Antara news agency.

Nachrowi, an Indonesian military spokesman, said there is no confirmation the armed forces are involved in deforestation but promised to take action if the claim proved true.

Hermono Sigit, a senior environment ministry official, said illegal logging may have been a factor but not the only cause of the deadly flood. "There are a lot of causes there," he said, citing "land clearance" as one.

In the first case of its kind, the ministry earlier this year secured court convictions against almost 20 people connected with an illegal logging case on Java island, he said. Most of the accused received two-year jail terms.

Last December at least 26 people died when a flash flood and mudslide buried a hot springs resort in East Java. Police said there had been illegal logging above the resort.

In January, at least 18 people died after a landslide triggered by heavy rain crashed into two villages in West Java province. Local officials cited deforestation as a possible cause.