TEMPO.CO, Jakarta-A new plan that would open up much of Aceh’s forests to commercial exploitation has been clouded by misinformation.
Officials place the blame with irresponsible NGOs, said to have spread false figures in the media.
However, civil society elements tell a different story. They claim it is the authorities who have been misleading the public, and that Aceh officials have designed the plan in secret, without a proper public consultation.
Moreover, environmental experts, activists and academics say that despite their best efforts, they have been unable to obtain basic data and documents associated with the plan. They tell of state agencies sending them in circles, withholding crucial information about what is in store for the province.
Their list of gripes also includes officials’ blatant disregard for procedure as they push the plan through Jakarta. Activists have assailed the legality of the plan as it awaits the signature of Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, who announced in March that it was “almost final.”
Officials have promoted the plan as a vehicle to bring development to the people, but its opponents say it will actually undermine the livelihoods of the majority of the Acehnese.
Graham Usher, a landscape protection specialist with the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Program, expounded on that point in a March 11 webinar, which was based on information obtained largely through unofficial means. In an interview with Tempo, he called the plan a “recipe for disaster.”
“If you really understand the geophysical reality of Aceh, why would you make the spatial plan they have?” he said. “It just doesn’t make environmental sense.”
Residents of Pidie, the rice bowl of Aceh, would suffer disruption to crucial water supplies, Usher said in the webinar. In Tamiang, where people still live in camps as a result of the massive flooding of 2006, reactivating logging concessions would exacerbate the risk of further disasters. The list goes on.
“We would love the opportunity to make a presentation to them about this,” he told Tempo.
“Where is the debate? Where is the rigorous peer review of what they’re doing? That’s all we’re asking for.”
The plan, known as Rencana Tata Ruang Wilayah (RTRW), has been in the works for years. In 2009, Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf’s administration submitted to Jakarta a plan that would have increased Aceh’s protected forest area. The Public Works Ministry gave it the green light, and it went to the Forestry Ministry for approval.
In April 2012, however, Irwandi lost the race for governor to Zaini Abdullah. Soon rumors of a new draft began to circulate. The bombshell came in January, when Teuku Anwar, chairman of the Aceh parliament’s spatial planning committee, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the new government intended to “reduce Aceh’s total forest cover from about 68 percent of the province’s land mass to 45 percent.”
After that, news reports began naming 1.2 million hectares as the amount to be cleared. The Jakarta Post reported that the plan would “convert around 1.2 million hectares of forests into a limited forest production zone by converting it into plantation and mining areas and other purposes.”
That was wrong, said Irfan, a special adviser to Zaini. He attributed the confusion to a “black campaign” led by NGOs with an agenda.
Irfan said the plan would merely reclassify a net 89,000 ha as nonforest area. Some villages were in areas improperly marked as forest area, blocking them from state funds. In sum, the plan would only reduce the province’s “total forest area” from 61.4 percent to 60.5 percent.
“I think [troublesome NGOs] don’t know exactly what is the plan,” he told Tempo.
Usher said Irfan was simply presenting the situation from a different angle. He was talking, Usher said, as if old forestry design plans in which there are logging concessions that have been inactive for more than a decade were still valid.
“According to his mindset, those logging concessions still exist and they’re not changing anything by including them in the new spatial plan,” Usher said.
“Under Irwandi’s plan, the idea was not to have any of these forests available for logging. That’s our point of reference. Because people who have been doing environmental sensitivity analysis in Aceh, such as myself, feel there’s no area that can be logged without serious damage.”
“Why designate an area for logging if you don’t intend to log it?” he added.
Yakob Ishademy, who headed Irwandi’s Aceh Green team tasked with developing a conservation-based policy framework, said there had been no public consultation since Zaini took office.
“The problem is, the process should be open,” Yakob told Tempo. “That is mandated by the national law on spatial planning. Consultation of stakeholders, consultation of the public, consultation of the community.”
Isma Efendi, a spokesman for the Coalition of People Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA), said that while Irwandi was far from perfect, at least his regime was more transparent.
“At that time, we felt okay about the plan,” he told Tempo. “At least in those days, there was involvement.” Now, he said, communities and NGOs had been excluded. “The government hasn’t done its job to make sure people know what they’re planning,” he said.
Others feel the same way. Asnawi Zainun, a spokesman for the mukim of Aceh Besar — mukim are indigenous leaders legally entitled to involvement in spatial planning — told a press conference on April 2 that they had been neglected and that they rejected the plan. NGOs from Aceh Tamiang have released a similar statement.
Irfan said the Aceh parliament already held a Rapat Dengar Pendapat Umum, or public hearing, in which NGOs were invited to weigh in, although he couldn’t remember when it was, just that it was “a long time ago.”
The government only invited some NGOs to meetings like that, Efendi said. The ones known to protest, such as Walhi, were generally not included. Yakob said the only public hearings he knew about had either been held during Irwandi’s regime — before the new draft came into play — or had been limited to certain groups.
Yakob added that while he was on Aceh Green they held many stakeholder consultations, spent countless hours discussing people’s complaints with them and published data sets.
Joshua Holst, who lived in Aceh recently as part of his doctorate research, said that while there was certainly participation, it wasn’t always substantive.
“Groups that will be problematic are left out. … Participation certainly has an impact, but it can also be about getting people on board with a plan that has been set already,” he wrote in an email.
Holst said agencies from which he requested ostensibly public data on Aceh’s forest cover only passed him around and claimed they didn’t have it.
“Many of my friends in Aceh indicated that it would be impossible to get GIS data, and to their point I certainly didn’t have any success,” he wrote.
A former official who has worked with KPHA said she knew several activists who had written to Aceh’s Regional Development Planning Board (Bappeda) for data related to the spatial plan, but had never received a response. Efendi too has had little luck. Oftentimes, he was offered only partial information or sent to another agency, he said.
“That should not happen,” Yakob said.
At the end of the day, the former official said, if you overlay everything — the pulp and paper, palm oil, mining and logging concessions treated as valid under the plan, the controversial proposed road network legitimized by it, the forest area changes it proposes, as well as the possible revocation of two logging moratorium now in effect — the RTRW paves the way, directly or indirectly, for nearly 2 million hectares of destruction.
“That’s why I say they are smart,” she said. “Because they don’t make it obvious.”
A Vancouver-based mining company is under attack for a proposal that could lead to the destruction of more than one million hectares of protected forests in a region of Sumatra known for its endangered wildlife.
East Asia Minerals Corp. denies it is behind a plan to take a swath of protected forest and reclassify it as “production forest.” But a number of environmental groups, some with wide international connections, are turning up the heat on the issue, and are blaming the company for a proposed deal that would open 1.2 million hectares of jungle to mining, logging and conversion to palm-oil plantations.
Kevin Vallely, a Canadian adventurer whose expeditions have taken him to some of the wildest places on the planet, said the rain forest of northern Sumatra is an international treasure that should be protected.
“It’s one of the last, massive, great tropical rain forest jungles left in the world,” he said. “This jungle is utterly magnificent. You go in there and you know it’s a different place. It’s teeming with wildlife. Why would we want to cut down one of the world’s most amazing forests?”
The area, which includes the Leuser National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the only place in the world where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist.
But Mr. Vallely, a North Vancouver architect who travelled through the region a few years ago, said some of the animals there – notably the endangered Sumatran rhino – are on the verge of extinction.
“There are something like 20 of them left,” he said. “If this [mining and logging] starts, you know it’s going to be the end of that rain-forest ecosystem … it’s over, end of story.”
That is the concern of a coalition of NGOs that includes Greenpeace South East Asia, Friends of the Earth Indonesia and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, among others.
The groups became alarmed recently when East Asia Minerals Corp. put out a press release announcing that the Indonesian government “is close to accepting a proposal to open 1.2 million hectares of forest” in Aceh province.
The news release suggested the company was actively involved in formulating the plan, which would make it easier to develop its Miwah gold-mining project, on the northern tip of Sumatra.
“The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest,’ ” stated the release.
Edward Rochette, CEO of East Asia Minerals and the company spokesman on the Sumatra mining project, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Craig MacPhail, head of investor relations for the company, said he couldn’t discuss the Miwah project or the controversy over reclassifying protected forests. But he agreed to “clarify” the wording of the release.
He said the release was simply meant as a statement by the company to update investors on developments taking place in Sumatra.
The company, he said, is not behind the plan to open the forests to development and is simply not influential enough to guide the government of Sumatra in its policy development.
“The Ministry of Forestry [in Sumatra] has suggested plans to reclassify protected forests to production forests. That’s what they have done. We haven’t done that,” he said. “We haven’t been leading a campaign to strip the forests of Indonesia … we haven’t suggested it. We were informing our investor base [in the press release] … about what Aceh province had been putting forward.”
Mr. MacPhail said his company would like to stay out of the argument over the future of the protected forests in Sumatra. But he admitted “it’s gotten pretty hot” since the release came out last week.
It is probably going to get a lot hotter as word spreads that Sumatra’s iconic rain forest is about to be put on the chopping block.
The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from “protected forest” to “production forest.” East Asia Minerals has implemented a new Corporate Social Responsibility program and hired ex-government officials to help them with these efforts.
- Greenpeace: East Asia Mining Behind the Reclassification of Aceh’s Protection Forest (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- PRESS RELEASE: Aceh plans to clear 1.2 million hectares of protected forest trigger alarm over increase in landslides, floods and other natural disasters. (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Mining company working with Indonesian government to strip forest of protected status (guardian.co.uk)
Aceh is currently preparing to open over 1.2 million hectares of protected forest for the development of mines, plantations, roads, logging and palm oil expansion. This devastating plan would reduce total forest cover of Aceh from 68% to 45% and see the destruction of Tripa and other areas of the protected Leuser Ecosystem driving Sumatran orangutan, elephants, tigers and rhinos to extinction.
Act now! This must be stopped.
Donate > http://www.sumatranorangutan.org
The Guardian UK | 17 April 2013
A Toronto-listed mining company says it is working closely with the Indonesian government to strip the protected status of some 1.6 million hectares forest on the island of Sumatra.
In a statement issued Tuesday, East Asia Minerals Corporation (TSX:EAS) claimed it is actively involved in the process of devising a new spatial plan for Aceh province, Sumatra’s western-most province. The proposed changes to the spatial plan, which governs land use in the province, would re-zone large areas of protected forest in Aceh for industrial activities, including nearly a million hectares for mining, 416,086 ha for logging, and 256,250 ha for for oil palm plantations.
“The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest’,” East Asia Minerals said in a press release announcing the potential implications for its Miwah gold mining project. “Once forestry designation has been reclassified, the company will be granted the ability to continue the drilling program with the goal of expanding the resource at Miwah.”
East Asia Minerals added that it “has implemented a new Corporate Social Responsibility program and hired ex-government officials to help them with these efforts.” It also noted that the length of the reclassification “is primarily due to dealing with a coalition of environmental groups, and NGOs.”
Aceh’s proposed spatial plan has been hotly contested by some environmental groups in Aceh, who say that re-zoning could jeopardize the province’s world-renowned biodiversity, including endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers, and elephants. Their concerns were echoed last month by a group of biologists and conservation scientists who warned that potential changes to the spatial plan could undermine some of the ecological services that underpin province’s economy and well-being of its citizens.
“Aceh forests are essential for food security, regulating water flows in both the monsoon and drought seasons to irrigate rice fields and other cash crops,” stated a declaration issued at the conclusion of the annual meeting held by the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC). “Forest disruption in Aceh’s upland areas will increase the risk of destructive flooding for people living downstream in the coastal lowlands.”
The group, which is the largest association of tropical conservation scientists, said the plan could hurt Aceh’s food security and exacerbate conflict in a region that suffered from more than a decade of civil strife from the early 1990′s to early 2000′s.
Supporters of the spatial plan revision say it will bring more investment to the province and boost industrial commodity production.
East Asia Minerals has gold, silver, and copper mining operations in Aceh and North Sulawesi. In 2011 it purchased half of Carbon Conservation, a forest carbon project developer that aimed to capitalize on carbon credits generated under the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program before foundering due to slow market conditions.
East Asia Minerals had a market capitalization of $18 million as of April 16, 2013, down from a 52-week high of $48 million in May 2012.
- Indonesian forest open for mining, logging (smh.com.au)
- Mining company working with Indonesian government to strip forest of protected status (guardian.co.uk)
- Aceh told to keep its forests intact (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Sciencists urged to stand up for Aceh’s biodiversity (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Aceh draft bylaw risks forests, say activists (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
If there are enough signatures in the next 14 hours, Avaaz will share this petition with more of their 20 million members, this could be HUGE! but we have to act FAST.
Please sign, then share this petition everywhere, facebook, twitter, email and every other creative way you can think, this is a huge change to Save Aceh!
Environmental scientists and institutions are calling on the Aceh provincial administration to maintain the province’s biodiversity amid fears that an incoming spatial plan will further exploit its vast forests.
The scientists also called on the administration to preserve protected species as well as guarantee food supplies for residents living in the province’s lowlands.
“We expect the Aceh provincial administration to make use of scientific findings made by scientists working on biodiversity in Aceh and other countries,” said Antony J. Lynam, secretary of the Asia Pacific chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC).
The association held a chapter meeting in Banda Aceh from March 18-22.
Scientists presented their research from various countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand at the conference.
“Through the research results, policy makers can decide on policies related to sustainable environmental management for the good of the public,” said Lynam.
Researchers grouped under ATBC came up with a declaration and recommendations for the Aceh administration, especially related to the provincial spatial plan (RTRW) that will be implemented soon.
The scientists said Aceh had a unique culture with the presence of customary institutions such as Mukim and Panglima Uteun, which in previous centuries had preserved 3.7 million hectares of forest for the welfare and well-being of future generations.
That was why Aceh’s forests were essential for food security through water supply management during dry and rainy seasons.
“Deforestation in Aceh’s highlands will increase the risk of flash floods for people living downstream in the coastal areas as well as threatening areas where special species such as elephants, tigers and orangutan live together,” said Lynam.
The special autonomy granted to Aceh by the central government allowed the province to develop an innovative RTRW, showing that economic development and environmentally-based management could be implemented
Aceh’s forests have been globally recognized, with the Gunung Leuser National Park inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, scientists believe that some components of the Aceh RTRW, especially the development of the forestry sector and latest infrastructure projects, will pose serious risks to the environment, such as a loss of natural hydrology functions and serious damage in lowland rivers and fisheries, which will have a negative effect on human life and biodiversity.
Lynam said the scientists recommended that the Aceh RTRW be based on high quality spatial data, which was already available in various provincial agencies. The data includes maps of forest areas along rivers, environmental risks, soil types, geological disasters, population, rain intensity and wildlife in Aceh.
Meanwhile, Bill Laurence of James Cook University, Australia, said the provincial administration had to avoid opening access roads around forests, especially the remaining conservation forests.
“Opening roads around those ecosystem areas would be like opening a wound that would never heal. Roads will provide access to forest pillaging and opening,” he said.
“Once the infrastructure is developed, then the forest will head toward destruction,” he added.
Laurence expected the Aceh administration to carefully consider opening roads in ecosystem areas, including for reasons related to improving the public’s economic condition.
“We must prevent long-term, bigger losses that will overshadow short-term benefits,” he said.
- Sciencists urged to stand up for Aceh’s biodiversity (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Conservation scientists: Aceh’s spatial plan a risk to forests, wildlife, and people (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
The Globe Journal | Afifuddin Acal
(Original in Bahasa Indonesian)
Monday, March 18, 2013 18:56 pm
Banda Aceh – Dozens of environmental activists who joined in Aceh Spatial Alliance (ATRA), staged Monday afternoon in front of the Hermes Hotel Aceh demanded that the government cancel the Spatial Layout Plan (Spatial Plan) Aceh are being discussed.
Action coordinator, Faisal Kamal said that, RTRW Aceh is full of interest and breaking the rules. Overlapping concession permit were found in various locations that was initially protected and proposed to be unprotected. These concession doesnt fulfil their duties and breaking the law, they also doesnt have IPKH (Permits to utilize Forest Area).
“The plan of Qanun Spatial Plan (Provincial Law) is heavily indicated with procedurally flaw and violation to the law,” said Faisal Kamal in his speech.
Moreover, the Director of Walhi Aceh, Zulfikar T.Muhammad in his speech said that Aceh is prone to natural disasters. This is a result of unsuitable utilization of Aceh forests, which will be worsen if the current spatial plan proceed at its current course.
“The people of Aceh currently being misled, and we are rejecting the Spatial Plans currently being pushed and lobbied,” said TM Zulfikar in his speech.
While other orators mentioned, during the designing process of Aceh new spatial plan, Government of Aceh actively refuse to involve community and NGOs as stakeholders. Supposedly, the draft spatial plan should first being consulted the broader community, as direct beneficiaries and most at risk.
“The Spatial Plan currently being designed by the government only impressive on the table and not on the ground, therefore, we are requesting the plan to be re-designed by involving all stakeholders,” said Isma Effensi.
In the action held in front yard Hermes Hotel was guarding by local police. Dozens of police seen stood guard around the Hermes.
After doing the speech for about 30 minutes, Head of Forestry, Husaini Syamaun directly meet the protesters. On that occasion, Husaini promised not to let the forests of Aceh damaged.
“The Government of Aceh will not destroy forest, let alone allow law violation, the Government of Aceh is committed to keep the forest,” said Husaini Syamaun front of the protesters.
Furthermore, he said, do not listen exhale issues by parties that are not responsible. “Please only use official information, do not get stuck with issues if its not officials,” he said. Yet, protester have stated that official information are next to impossible to access.
Dozens of community hold public demonstration in front of Hermes Palace Hotel rejecting the proposed Aceh spatial plan
Dozens of people incorporated in the community forums and NGOs in Aceh Tamiang, staged a demonstration in front of the Hermes Palace Hotel, Monday, March 18, 2013, at 17.00 hrs. Comminuties rejected the proposed Spatial Plan (RTRW) Aceh.
Director Walhi Aceh, TM Zulfikar, who also perform this action said that it rejected the proposed spatial plan of Aceh. He also invites people to voice out their concern on Aceh new spatial plan.
“Many people want to extract Aceh resources, land and forest, taking into example in Aceh Tamiang where protected forests turned into Areas for Other Land Use (APL) in proposed spatial plan. This is a major disavantage for the community who are put at risk when natural disaster such as flood wash over their agriculture and villages. That is the reason why we are rejecting proposed spatial plan,” said TM Zulfikar.
ATJEHPOST observed, the protesters also shouted slogans anti RTRW Aceh. According to the protesters, a number of areas proposed to be re-designated from protected forest to Other Land Use are overlapping with illegal palm oil concession and encroachment, which show the likelihood of ‘white-washing’ efforts government is taking against these illegal behavior.
originally published in Indonesian
Environmental activists have condemned the Aceh administration following confirmation that it planned to reverse a logging ban imposed by the previous administration and clear up to 1.2 million hectares of protected forest across the province.
Efendi, a spokesman for the Coalition of People Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA), said at a media conference in Jakarta on Thursday that the provincial administration’s special planning committee had confirmed that the Forestry Ministry had approved of “almost 100 percent” of proposed changes to its spatial plans.
This would slash the proportion of protected forest in the province from 68 percent to 45 percent, and cause the loss of 1.2 million hectares of forest.
“Despite our best efforts, communities and NGOs have been completely excluded from the development process of the new spatial plan, which has totally lacked transparency and accountability,” Efendi said.
He said the proposed change in status for protected forests “is closely linked to planned expansion of palm oil plantations and mining.”
“There is an inevitable belief that the proposal is simply to legalize illegal activities already taking place as several mining and palm oil concessions overlap the areas scheduled for downgrading,” he said.
Activists also called into question the claim by the administration that transforming large swaths of forest into mining and oil palm concessions would lead to greater land availability for local communities.
They noted that the area to be allocated to the community was just over 1 percent of the planned new opening of forest area, or 14,704 hectares, while the largest allocations would go toward mining, at just under 1 million hectares, logging concessions (416,086 hectares), and oil palm concessions (256,250 hectares).
They also said that the latter concessions would cover the entire Tripa peat swamp, a protected area that is considered an important habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan and that has received much international attention due to illegal clearing there by palm oil companies.
The illegal clearing is still being investigated by the Environment Ministry and the police.
‘Extremely dangerous move’
The KPHA also warned that in addition to the new “large-scale exploitative industrial developments,” the spatial plan also paved the way for the construction of an extensive road network that would cut through currently protected forests, “further disrupting wildlife and watersheds in the region and opening up even more forests for exploitation, both legal and illegal.”
“Famously once known as the ‘Ladia Galaska’ road network, or the ‘Spider Web,’ for its appearance, the plan is once again being resurrected, despite being rejected in the past by popular demand due to the severe environmental damage it would bring,” the group said in a statement.
Graham Usher, a landscape protection specialist previously involved in forest mapping under the previous Aceh governor, Irwandi Yusuf, said: “Areas that had previously been identified as being too high or too steep for conversion, or as having inappropriate soil types and heavy rainfall, so that under existing Indonesian regulations they should be protected forests, have now been identified as targets for logging concessions, roads, mining concessions and palm oil plantations.
“Opening up such forests is an extremely dangerous move. Aceh’s people know very well that removal of forests on such steep and unstable soils results in devastating landslides and floods during the heavy rains that Aceh receives every year.
“The plan to clear these forests is a serious mistake that will result in the loss of yet more innocent lives and huge economic losses for the province.”
The activists said it was likely that “a number of national laws have been breached” by the administration of Governor Zaini Abdullah in drawing up the proposed changes. Under Irwandi, large-scale logging and forest clearing were prohibited.
Ian Singleton, from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said it was not just the iconic apes that would disappear if the spatial plan went into force.
“It is now being proposed that Tripa lose its currently protected status altogether, and for this unique peat swamp ecosystem and all its biodiversity and potentially hugely valuable carbon stock to be handed over to the palm oil companies for final, total obliteration,” he said.
“The new spatial plan does not even acknowledge the existence of the world-renowned Leuser Ecosystem protected area or the fact that the forests they intend to ‘unprotect’ are the last main hope for the long-term survival of iconic Sumatran endemic species such as the Sumatran tiger, elephant and rhinoceros. The future of each of these species, and countless others, will be placed in immediate jeopardy if the plans are allowed to proceed.”
Singleton added it was ironic that after receiving tens of millions of dollars from the international community to protect its forests, the Aceh administration “now plans to trash them for roads, new mines, timber and oil palm concessions.”
Rudi Hadiansyah Putra, the conservation manager for the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority (BPKEL), said conservationists had worked hard to protect Aceh’s forests, and that what the provincial administration proposed doing would set back all their efforts.
“The community understand very well from previous devastating flash floods that clearing the forests upstream has a direct impact on the river flow and their own safety downstream,” he said.
“The people of Aceh are no fools. We know that when these unstable areas are cut, it directly leads to increasing natural disasters. If even the villagers know this, why do the Aceh government’s advisers not comprehend this simple connection?”