Fatal disasters linked to deforestation

Down to Earth No 56  February 2003

Floods which have swept through Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan have been blamed on deforestation in water catchments of the two districts in Riau. "So far, the rainfall is normal", the head of the local meteorology office told reporters. "Yet the rainfall, together with the…plundering of the forests in the province, has worsened the flood which was basically caused by the overflowing of the Kotopanjang reservoir in Kampar", he said. More than 20,000 people had been displaced by the end of January and the trans-Sumatra highway has been disrupted. In a further irony, trucks carrying logs to the Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper mills could not get through. (Jakarta Post 30/Jan/03)

At least 22 people were killed when landslides hit the villages of Mandalasari, Karangmulya and Karang Tengah on January 30th. West Java's governor, R. Nuriana, has written to state forestry company, Perhutani, to demand accountability for the condition of the forested slopes of nearby Mount Mandalawangi. The head of West Java's provincial assembly has attacked the Perhutani for its inability to manage these forests properly.

A December landslide in Pacet, East Java, which killed at least 30 people, is also being blamed on deforestation. WALHI says it plans to sue Perhutani for allowing illegal logging in forests above a popular hot springs resort. WALHI accuses the company of felling the forests itself and planting pine, mahogany and teak for commercial use in what has been designated a protection forest area. Perhutani has blamed the tragedy on heavy rain. (Jakarta Post 31/Jan/03 & 15/Dec/02).

The deaths at Pacet and Garut add to the long record of human misery associated with the Perhutani. Last year, the company was also accused of brutality when dealing with local villagers in Banten and Central Java. A man from Blora, Central Java, died in October 2002 after being tortured by a Perhutani official - see DTE 55.