Disaster caused by deforestation: Activists

Disaster caused by deforestation: Activists
, 15 October 2010

Environmentalists insisted Thursday that the fatal flash floods in Wasior district in West Papua were caused by environmental degradation in the area.

They challenged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s claim that the condition in the area was reasonably good and was not to blame for the flood, which has claimed about 150 lives.

Yudhoyono said he had observed the forest condition, seen aerial photographs of forests around Wa sior, and found no visible signs of damage. “I have seen the forests and they are still well maintained,” the President said during his visit to the district. Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono arrived Thursday morning at the Kuri Pasai seaport in Wasior to meet flood victims.

Yudhoyono said he had seen remnants of logs around the area, yet asserted that the finding could not be associated with illegal logging activities. “Those logs were from uprooted trees,” Yudhoyono was quoted as saying by Antara.

He also spoke with Teluk Wondama district officials. He instructed local authorities to extend the emergency response to the victims from Oct. 8 to Oct. 31. Emergency response efforts were originally scheduled for 10 days.

Meanwhile, activists have blamed the flash flood and mudslide of Oct. 4 on environmental damage caused by natural and human factors.

The flood destroyed 80 percent of conservation forests, such as the 1,453,500 hectares in Cenderawasih Bay Marine National Park and the Mount Wondiboy Natural Preserve (73 million square kilometers).

“How could the protected areas be devastated by the incident, which was not only caused by nature but also other causes?’ Foker environmental group director Septer Manufandu said in Jayapura on Thursday.
Soil structure around the Wondiboy mountainous region is unstable and prone to landslides. The surrounding ecosystem often changes due to high rainfall.

“Rainfall around Mount Wondiboy is recorded at between 4,000 and 5,000 millimeters per year. The natural condition is prone to disaster, let alone activities degrading the environment,” said Lyndon Pangkali from the Papua WWF.

Based on the latest data from Wasior, the death toll stands at 154 with 123 missing, 188 seriously injured and 2,652 people taking shelter in Teluk Wondama, Manokwari, Nabire and other areas.

The Mimika regency administration is sending relief aid to Wasior, said Mimika Deputy Regent Abdul Muis on Thursday.

Muis said his office had urged the private sector and religious groups in Mimika to raise assistance to Wasior. “We have stockpiled food such as instant noodles and rice, and will immediately send them to Wasior,” he said.