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Government told to reconsider road project in Leuser park MEDAN - Legislators urged the government on Tuesday to abandon its plan to continue construction on a Rp 1 trillion (US$1.2 million) highway cutting through Aceh province in Sumatra. "We do not see any urgency to build the road, at the cost of destroying the Leuser ecosystem," said legislator Zaenal Arifin on Tuesday, echoing what environmentalists said recently.
Debate on the 500-kilometer road project surged following a huge flash flood on Nov. 2 in nearby North Sumatra province, which environmentalists attributed to the destruction of the Leuser ecosystem. The flood killed 140 people, with more than 100 people still unaccounted for.
The flood in Bukit Lawang resort, Langka regency, triggered public debate, with the road project cited as one of several possible causes. Both Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa and State Minister of the Environment Nabiel Makarim initially blamed illegal logging as the cause of the flood, but their stance shifted after visiting the site. Now, both ministers say that the flood was purely a natural disaster.
Prakosa said on Monday that the government was to relocate a 14-kilometer stretch of road to avoid destroying the park. It was not immediately clear if the relocation would entail moving the route out of the Leuser Park as suggested by environmentalist activists. A team from the forestry ministry left for the Ladia Galaska on Tuesday to determine what to do with the parts that are prone to landslides.
The Ladia Galaska road project connects the Indian Ocean side of Aceh with the Malaka Strait on the eastern side and links 23 small villages with a total population of less than 1,000 residents. Over 90 kilometers of the road would cut through the Leuser ecosystem. So far only about 10 km of the road on the Indian Ocean side have been completed.
Nabiel had earlier suggested that the road project be abandoned for fear that it would become a means for illegal loggers to transport stolen logs. "The government argued that people in East Aceh needed the road to end their isolation and improve their welfare. However, the number of residents there is not significant enough to destroy the Leuser ecosystem," Zainal said after a meeting between legislators of Commission VIII on energy and environment and Nabiel at the latter's office.
"It's obvious that roads transecting forests have both a serious and permanent negative impact." Zaenal, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction, alleged that the road would benefit only few people, including the owners of several oil palm plantations adjacent to the projected route. The Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure commenced construction on the project, despite an incomplete environmental feasibility study (Amdal) and lack of an official order from the President.
Water from the Leuser ecosystem sustains more than two million farmers as well as supporting a major industrial complex in the Aceh town of Lhokseumawe. Separately, an investigation team comprising staffers of the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesia Forum on the Environment (Walhi) and the Office of the State Minister of the Environment revealed that illegal occupation of land in Mount Leuser National Park had caused the recent flash flood.
Mardjoko, the founder of the Medan-based Environment Legal Aid Institute, said that illegal occupation of the national park land also occurred in the downstream area of the Bahorok River.



Posted in Environment @ 12 November 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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