Indonesian forest destruction – corruption plays a role

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    Martin W

      Just done brief checking re forest destruction in Kalimantan, inc role of former President Suharto and cronies. Some interesting articles; a few extracts here:

      Since 1982, forest fires on a large scale in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java have come with the onset of each dry season. A fire in Kalimantan in 1983, reportedly the largest in human history, destroyed 3.7 million hectares of rainforest, an area the size of the Netherlands. In 1987, 2 million hectares, 1.4 million of primary rainforest, were destroyed in Kalimantan, Sumatra, East Timor, Sulawesi and mountain regions of Java. In 1991 smoke and ash from fires blanketed Singapore, Malaysia and the Straits of Malacca, forcing Indonesia to call for international help.

      Forest fires of this magnitude coincide with a rapid increase in logging and plantation activities which began in the early 1980s. In 1966, 82% of Indonesia's land mass was covered by primary forest. By 1982 this had shrunk to 68%, and recent satellite photographs indicate that forest cover – including timber plantations – is now down to about 55%. In late 1996, the Indonesian minister of forests said that 20 million hectares of forest were in a critical state and warned that this was increasing rapidly. The World Bank estimates 800,000 hectares of forest are lost each year. Around 64 million hectares – one-third of Indonesia's land mass – is devoted to commercial logging. In 1996 Indonesia became the world's largest plywood exporter. …

      On September 9, Suharto reissued a 1995 ban on burning forest and called on the military to help enforce it. Companies were given until October 3 to prove they were not the culprits. Laws allow up to 10 years' imprisonment and a 100 million rupiah fine for polluters. Not one company, however, has ever been convicted. Even the environment minister, Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, admitted to Reuters on September 22 that environmental laws are not policed properly. Soon after Suharto's announcement, the number of fires increased, as companies rushed to clear as much land as possible before the deadline. Even if the deadline was strictly adhered to, it would only let companies finish clearing land at a time the normal rainy season would have forced them to do so. …

      But it is not just the greed of Suharto and the logging and plantation firms which has created this disaster. Government investment and development policies which have promoted destructive land clearing practices are spurred on by market forces and capitalism's endless drive for profit. Many of the projects were championed by and funded by institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, which pressure countries such as Indonesia to increase exports.

      Suharto Fiddles While Indonesia Burns

      From 2001:

      With the 1998 fall of President Suharto, a new breed of businessmen is on the rise, and they are bending the local government to their will as efficiently as any Colombian drug cartel. Yet their business isn't cocaine or heroin. It is the illegal and unregulated logging of Asia's last great rainforests. The lowland jungles of Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, the most diverse ecosystems on earth, are expected to vanish within a decade, according to a paper published in the journal Science in May. "It's chaos,'' says Jim Jarvie, a botanist and conservationist, who was one of the paper's authors. "The loggers can do whatever they want.'' The new timber barons – like the resource-based mafias that emerged to feed on the disorder of post-Soviet Russia – are shaping Indonesia's era of political reform by taking advantage of the weak legal and political institutions that are authoritarianism's legacy.Roughly $3 billion of timber is stolen annually, says the World Bank, and that buys a lot of influence in a poor, transitional nation that's ranked the third most corrupt in the world, according to Transparency International.

      "The only law now is money,'' says Sesep Zainuddin, a conservationist in West Kalimantan. That's what Ms. Doherty, an investigator for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a Britain-based nonprofit, was finding out. She and Ruwindrijarto, her Indonesian colleague from the local environmental group Telepak, had come to Pangakalanbuun to confront sawmill owner Abdul Rasyid, who they – and the Indonesian Forestry Ministry – allege is the biggest logger in Tanjung Puting National Park. Though they believed Mr. Rasyid to be involved in illegal activities, they'd never expected to be in personal danger by attending a meeting. But they were wrong. At Raysid's timber company offices here, they were met by his nephew Sugianto Sabran Effendi and a group of men. Mr. Ruwindrijarto was repeatedly kicked in the head while Mr. Sugianto held a pistol and threatened to have them killed. That ended when the police arrived and arrested Doherty and Ruwindrijarto.

      "As if we were the criminals,'' recalls Doherty. … a lesson was delivered in the decline of Jakarta's influence and the rise of Rasyid's. The Central Kalimantan governor created a Tanjung Puting oversight commission, but named Rasyid's brother Ruslan, a shareholder in the family companies, to be its chairman. Conditions in the park deteriorated toward the end of 1999, with a station conducting research on proboscis monkeys burned by loggers, prompting Doherty' s return in January 2000. That was when the activists were taken hostage. In addition to Ruwindrijarto's beating, they spent three days at the police station, while a mob screamed threats from outside the gate. They were then taken to the airport and warned by the police to never return.

      "Rasyid was sending a message,'' says Doherty, in Jakarta a year later. "It's his town.'' Activists aren't the only ones being pushed around. In February 2000, a team of central government officials, responding to complaints from aid donors like the World Bank, arrived to audit and close a Tanjung Lingga mill. A mob of Rasyid's workers was waiting for them with axes and machetes. The officials then went to the national park, where they confiscated some logs, but within hours another mob had burned the park office in protest. The delegation fled, and since then, there's been little interference from Jakarta. …

      The rise of robber barons speeds forest decline The 1998 fall of Suharto has set off a logging boom in Indonesia's national parks.

      also from 2001:

      "We are facing a cataclysm," said Togu Manurung, the director of Forest Watch Indonesia, an environmental organization that documents the destruction of the country's forests. "That is not an exaggeration. Our forests are disappearing faster now than under Suharto. It is worse than any time in Indonesia's history." The tropical forests of Indonesia, one-tenth of the world's total, have fallen victim in part to the virtual collapse of political authority in this southeast Asian nation of a thousand islands and more than 200 million people, the fourth-largest population in the world.

      The toppling three years ago of the regime of President Suharto, a close U.S. ally whose three-decade rule often ruthlessly imposed order, has been followed by widespread violent upheaval, including multiple secessionist movements. In this chaotic atmosphere, illegal logging has gone unchecked. In an unpublished report on the state of Indonesia's forests, the World Bank found that all the lowland forests in one of the country's largest islands, Sumatra ("forest that is usually the richest source of timber and which carries the highest biodiversity") will be extinct before 2005, and in Kalimantan, the island formerly known as Borneo, by 2010.

      Swamp forests, according to the report, will disappear five years later.

      In the past decade, the rate of Indonesia's deforestation has accelerated from 2.47 million acres annually, to 4.2 million acres. Based on an analysis of satellite photos of Indonesia's forests, the report, written by Derek Holmes, a consultant to the World Bank, and made available to Newsday, contends that unless the government acts immediately to stop rampant illegal logging, "the only extensive forests that will remain in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi in the second decade of the new millennium will be the low stature forests of the mountains. …"

      Lust for Teak Takes Grim Toll Illegal logging decimating Indonesia's majestic forests

      Now, under Susilo, maybe major improvements, but the remaining forests remain highly threatened.

      Post edited by: Martin, at: 2006/11/25 07:53

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