In Indonesia, deforestation is compounding the disaster caused by extreme weather and climate change

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Roads turned into black rivers, houses were washed away by strong currents and bodies were pulled from the mud during the floods and landslides that followed. A typhoon hit western Sumatra In early March, it will be one of the deadliest natural disasters in Indonesia.

Officials said the floods were caused by heavy rains, but environmental groups say the disaster is the latest example of deforestation and environmental degradation compounding the effects of extreme weather in Indonesia.

“This disaster was not only caused by bad weather, but also by environmental degradation,” the Indonesian environmental rights organization Indonesia Forum for the Environment wrote in a statement. “If the environment continues to be neglected, then we will continue to reap natural disasters.”

Indonesia has the third largest rainforest in the world and is home to endangered rainforests, including monkeys, elephants, and giant rainforests. Some don’t live anywhere else.

For generations, forests have also provided livelihoods, food, and medicine while contributing to the cultural traditions of millions of Indonesians.

Since 1950, more than 74 million hectares (285,715 square miles) of Indonesia’s rainforest – an area twice the size of Germany – has been cut, burned or destroyed to make way for palm oil, paper and rubber plantations, mining and other resources according to Global Global. Forest Watch.

Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil, one of the largest exporters of coal and one of the largest producers of paper. They also export oil and gas, rubber, tin and others. And it also has the world’s largest deposits of nickel – a key ingredient in electric cars, solar panels and other components of the green energy transition.

Indonesia has long been known as one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, with emissions from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and peatland fires, according to the Global Carbon Project.

It is also highly vulnerable to climate change, including extreme events such as floods and droughts, long-term changes from sea level rise, changes in rainfall and climate change, according to the World Bank. In recent decades, the country has already seen the effects of climate change: more rainfall, floods and landslides in the rainy season, and more fires in the longer summers.

But forests can play a major role in mitigating climate change, says Aida Greenbury, an Indonesian conservation expert.

Flooding can be slowed down by trees and vegetation that soak up rainwater and reduce erosion. During the dry season, forests produce moisture that helps reduce drought, including fire.

But when the forests shrink, so do the profits.

2017 study it said that deforestation and deforestation lead to a lack of rainfall, leading to soil erosion. Frequent harvesting operations – such as in palm oil plantations – and the removal of understory vegetation make the soil more compacted, allowing rain to run off the surface rather than seep into the ground. River erosion also deposits silt in rivers, shallowing rivers and increasing flood risks, according to the study.

After the floods in Sumatra at the beginning of March, the Governor of West Sumatra Mahyeldi Ansharullah said that there are strong signs of deforestation around the areas affected by floods and landslides. This, combined with heavy rainfall, inadequate drainage systems and inappropriate housing development contributed to the disaster, he said.

Experts and environmentalists have also reported deforestation that is escalating into disasters in other parts of Indonesia: In 2021 environmentalists partially blamed the floods in Kalimantan on environmental damage caused by large-scale mining and palm oil. In Papua, deforestation was caused by floods and landslides that killed more than 100 people in 2019.

There have been signs of progress: In 2018 Indonesian President Joko Widodo suspended new permits for oil palm plantations for three years. And the rate of deforestation decreased between 2021-2022, according to government data.

But experts warn that it is unlikely that deforestation in Indonesia will stop soon as the government continues to pursue mining projects and new infrastructure such as nickel smelters and cement factories.

“Many land use and land acquisition permits have already been granted for commercial purposes, and many of these areas are already disaster prone,” said Arie Rompas, Indonesia’s forest expert at Greenpeace.

President-elect Prabowo Subiantowho is expected to take office in October, has promised to continue Widodo’s development plan, including major food centers, mines and other infrastructure related to deforestation.

Environmentalists are also warning that environmental protection in Indonesia is declining, including the passing of the controversial Omnibus Law, which removed the Forestry Law’s issue of limited forest areas that must be maintained for development projects.

“The removal of that issue makes us very worried (about deforestation) for years to come,” said Rompas.

While experts and activists recognize that development is essential for Indonesia’s economic growth, they argue that it must be done in a way that is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

“We can’t continue down the path we’ve been on,” said veteran analyst Greenbury. “We have to make sure that the land, the forest land, does not run out.”


Associated Press weather and environmental coverage receives support from several private organizations. See AP weather information Here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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