Friday, 24 April 2009

Excessive logging causes floods

Nurni Sulaiman and Rizal Harahap

The Jakarta Post , Samarinda, Pekanbaru | Fri, 04/24/2009

Large-scale forest conversions are blamed for major floods in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, while environmentalists in Pekanbaru, Riau, protest against the issuance of logging permits.

The floods in the East Kalimantan capital Samarinda over the past week are still disrupting business centers, school activities, flights and national examinations in a number of schools in the city.

The Samarinda municipality has not denied accusations by NGOs that floods were caused by large-scale forest conversions in the city, such as for coal mining activities.

"We acknowledge that coal mining is one of the triggers of the floods, besides lax supervision by the municipality on environmental impacts created by mining companies," city secretariat acting spokesman Muhammad Faisal said on Wednesday evening.

Faisal added the municipal administration intended to tighten their supervision of mining companies.

If a company was found not to have implemented environmental impact procedures, it would be reprimanded or may even have their license revoked, he said.

"Two coal mining companies are currently in the process of having their licenses revoked," Faisal said.

Samarinda has granted 44 coal mining concessions, yet only 29 of them are currently operating.

During Earth Day celebrations on April 22, Samarinda Mayor Achmad Amins issued a call for mining operations to stop for one week, from April 22 to April 28.

The floods have engulfed homes of 80,000 residents in North Samarinda, Samarinda Ilir and Samarinda Ulu districts.

Faisal said the legal coal mining area in Samarinda spanned 12 percent of the city's total area.

"The issuance of mining licenses is problematic. If they are not granted, they will operate illegally," said Faisal.

He added that licenses granted by the government allowed for supervision of mining companies and the creation of jobs.

He said the allocation of funds for flood mitigation in Samarinda in the future would exceed the education budget. In November last year, flood mitigation funds in Samarinda amounted to Rp 10 billion (US$900,000); this year, they will need more.

Meanwhile in Riau, a number of environmental groups urged Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban to revoke recently approved logging licenses.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Wahli) director in Riau, Hariansyah Usman, deemed the issuance of the licenses as irrational at a time when people in the province were affected by floods caused by widespread logging.

Hariansyah said only 2.5 million hectares, or 20 percent of natural forests in Riau remained, despite the fact it was home to 6.4 million hectares of natural forests in 1982.

"Conversion into industrial forest and oil-palm plantations should be stopped as the condition of the remaining forests is very critical.

The central government should have been aware of this after recurrent disasters," Hariansyah told The Jakarta Post.

He also questioned the issuance of ministerial decree No. 14/2009, which allows the forestry minister to override the authority of the provincial forestry agency.

The new regulation was intentionally made because a number of forestry agency heads, including in Riau, were against logging licenses in natural forests.

Hariansyah said Walhi and a number of other environmental groups would send formal letters urging the forestry minister to revoke the timber licenses of seven companies.

"We are tracing the companies granted licenses exceeding normal regulations of size and location," he said.

The issuance of timber licenses to seven companies was disclosed to the public by the Riau Forestry Agency head, Zulkifli Yusuf.

Zulkifli said the licenses were approved between March and April.

"The Riau Forestry Agency had objected to the approval of the licenses, but the minister later approved them," Hariansyah said.

Zulkifli acknowledged he was unable to recall the names of the companies, or the size and location of the timber concession granted in the area.

"If I'm not mistaken, the total area spans tens of thousands of hectares and is spread throughout the entire Riau regencies," he said.