PRESS STATEMENT: Ten Years After the Tsunami, Aceh Faces New “Development Disasters”


Ten Years After the Tsunami, Aceh Faces New “Development Disasters”

10 years after the 2004 tsunami that claimed over 200,000 lives in Aceh, the province remains highly vulnerable to disasters.

At a Public Discussion held at the Hermes Palace Hotel on Saturday a panel of experts raised some of the issues. Panellists included Dr Ian Singleton (Anthopologist and Researcher from Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari/SOCP), Muhammad Fadil, S.T., M.T. (Kepala Bidang Perencanaan Pembangunan Sarana dan Prasarana, BAPPEDA Aceh), Mawardi Ismail, SH., M.Hum (Academic/Legal Expert Universitas Syiah Kuala) and Efendi Isma, S.Hut (Speaking on behalf of the Coalition Concerned for Aceh Forests /KPHA).

The panelists highlighted the fact that in just the past year, as of 24 December 2014, Aceh has experienced at least 70 major environmental disasters, comprising 21 landslides, 13 droughts, and 36 floods. Flash floods alone regularly cause massive damage to infrastructure in Aceh, even loss of lives, and immeasurable losses to local economies through destruction of crops and agriculture. There are currently more than 25,000 people displaced from the latest floods, in just the last 2 weeks, with 19,000 in Aceh Timur alone.

These disasters, exacerbated by unsustainable development projects, have multiple negative humanitarian, ecological and economic impacts, and undermine the billions of dollars of aid and investment that followed the tsunami. The scale of unsustainable development in Aceh indicates that poor planning and policies concerning resource and disaster risk management are largely to blame for many of these undesired consequences.

As pointed out by Efendi Isma, “The key concern now is the Province’s new spatial land-use plan “Rencana Tata Ruang Wilayah Aceh 2014-2034”, legalized at the provincial level as Qanun 19, also known as Qanun RTRWA. Although approved in Aceh, the Ministry of Home Affairs has highlighted numerous key points that must be amended before the plan can be approved by the national government. One of the main concerns is the fact that the Leuser Ecosystem is not even mentioned in the plan.”

“The Leuser Ecosystem is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as one of the “World’s Most Irreplaceable Places”. It is an area of unparalleled biodiversity in the region and the only place in the world where the Sumatran orangutan, rhino, elephant and tiger can be found living together side by side. The Ecosystem also provides essential services: water for agriculture and regulates flooding as well as prevents soil erosion/landslides protecting the 4 million people living downstream of the area.  It is also a National Strategic Area for its Environmental Function, whose protection is required under National Law.” He added.

Marwadi Ismail, Fakultas Hukum, University of Syiah Kuala explained “By not even mentioning the Leuser Ecosystem the Qanun RTRWA is clearly breaching a number of National Laws, even Aceh’s own Governance Law. There are also irregularities in its development that should be examined and rectified as quickly as possible.”

Rather than ignoring areas like Leuser, that are protected for a reason, the Qanun RTRWA should instead represent a legal and political commitment by the Aceh government to protect its valuable forests and the essential services they provide.

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme stated, “The old idea of environmental protection being against economic development needs to be quickly forgotten. Conservation is very much in the interests of long term sustained economic progress. It is indeed, however, against short-sighted, short-term over exploitation of resources for quick profits.”

The prospects of sustainable and inclusive development in Aceh are clearly being jeopardized by the Province’s Qanun RTRWA, unless it is immediately revoked or amended. Aceh is in a position to formulate a more future-oriented perspective, that equally integrates socio-economic and environmental aspects in its long-term development plan. The data is there already to do this, from a number of comprehensive and detailed reviews and environmental sensitivity analyses carried out in Aceh since the tsunami, but to date these have largely been ignored. A new land use plan is essential for Aceh to make real progress towards its ultimate goal of sustained, long-term economic development.

Contact details :

1. Mawardi Ismail, SH., M.Hum (Academic/Legal Expert, Universitas Syiah Kuala). Email: Tel: +62 811 681704

2. Efendi Isma, S.Hut (Coalition Concerned for Aceh Forests /KPHA). Email:  Tel: +62 813 6016055

3. Muhammad Fadil, S.T., M.T. (Kepala Bidang Perencanaan Pembangunan Sarana dan Prasarana, BAPPEDA Aceh). Tel: +62 852 60726077

4. Dr Ian Singleton (Anthropologist and Researcher from Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari/SOCP). Email: Tel: +62 811 650491.


PepsiCo Global Call-in Day

Please support the PepsiCo Global Call-in Day:

The vast, ancient landscape of the Leuser ecosystem supports some of the last populations of rare species like Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinos, elephants, clouded leopards and sun bears. With your help we will save it from being destroyed for Conflict Palm Oil.

Every day bulldozers drive deeper and deeper in the last stands of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia. Why? To meet the ever-growing demand for Conflict Palm Oil that is used in potato chips, crackers and snack foods made by companies including PepsiCo.

The only thing standing in the way of PepsiCo doing the right thing and taking a leadership position on this urgent issue is the company’s refusal to act. On December 9th, Palm Oil Activists around the world are coming together and calling on their communities to make thousands of phone calls to PepsiCo offices all over the planet.

Here are the 3 simple steps for participating in the PepsiCo Global Call-in Day

1. Find your country’s PepsiCo customer service phone number:

USA: 1 800 433 2652
Canada: 1 800 433 2652
Australia & New Zealand: +61 2 9951 1799
India: 1800 224 020
For Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa this website will direct you to the customer service phone number for your country or region: The customer service number for each country can usually be found under the “contact us” button on the webpage. Let us know if you need help finding the right phone number for your country!

2. Make the call:

Here’s what to say when you pick up the phone:

Hello , my name is ___ from _____ and I’m calling you today regarding PepsiCo’s use of palm oil and products that are tied to rainforest destruction and human and labor rights violations.

As a consumer, I don’t think it is acceptable for a company like PepsiCo to use palm oil that is tied to rainforest destruction and human and labor rights violations. We believe PepsiCo’s palm oil commitment has critical gaps that must be addressed immediately. PepsiCo must take action to identify and eliminate suppliers who are destroying rainforest and violating human and labor rights violations, including in the Leuser Ecosystem.

As a globally recognized brand with an immense international reach, PepsiCo must succeed in stopping the bulldozers and abuse in its supply chain and use its influence to protect the Leuser Ecosystem.

Will PepsiCo step up and cut Conflict Palm Oil for good?

3. Ask your friends to make a call by posting on Facebook and Twitter:

Invite friends to this event.

Share on Twitter. You could use the sample tweet below.

Join @RAN’s @PepsiCo Global Call-in Day and demand that PepsiCo cut #ConflictPalmOil

Update: Aceh Spatial Plan

Dear friends,

The Indonesian President SBY walked out of office some days ago and unfortunately, he did it without cancelling the Aceh Spatial Plan. That means he didn’t keep his promise to his granddaughter Almira to leave a green legacy and take action to save significant forests like the Leuser Ecosystem.

The Leuser Ecosystem is still facing its most serious threat to date: The Aceh Spatial Plan ignores its very existence which means it can be sold out to loggers, miners and poachers. This is outrageous considering the Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers still co-exist in the wild.

We were blown away by the amazing effort you all put in to our International Day of Action #SaveLeuserEcosystem and this gave us the momentum to keep pushing with more political work behind the scenes.

Together with 140 other local, national and international organizations we wrote a letter to the central government urging them to cancel the spatial plan and save the Leuser Ecosystem. Last week a coalition of over 30 individuals representing this huge group travelled to Jakarta to deliver the letter to senior Indonesian officials and explain why protecting the Leuser Ecosystem is so important.

We received a commitment that our message will be communicated to the incoming President. Our hope is that the new President Joko Widodo “Jokowi” who just started his term among much optimism will be more willing to take the bold action Indonesia and the rest of the world needs, and protect Indonesia’s remaining forests like the Leuser Ecosystem. We will continue to keep the pressure on him so that he stops the Aceh Spatial Plan once and for all.

At this point we would like to thank you again for your incredible support over the last couple of weeks and hope you are in it for the long haul with us and the iconic creatures of the Leuser Ecosystem! Please like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter for updates…

Warm regards,



Environmentalists file legal action on Aceh’s Spatial Plan

34_img_0305Photo: Paul Hilton

Banda Aceh – Various Indonesian NGOs organized in the Environmental Forum Walhi Aceh have filed judicial review on Aceh’s Spatial Plan to the Supreme Court.

“Our previous actions have not led the Government of Aceh to accommodate inputs. Therefore we decided to file a judicial review,” said Muhammad Nur, Executive Director of Walhi Aceh.

“It has been reported that still many different forms of violations exist within this particular law. These violations potentially provide access to a systematic destruction of the environment,” said Nur.

According to the environmentalists the Spatial Plan should be cancelled because it does not include the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem as required under higher law.

According to Muhammad Nur, there are a number of legal backgrounds that enable Walhi Aceh to file judicial review on the Spatial Plan.

“This judicial review is not the last measure that will be taken by us, while the Government of Aceh refuses to listen and to accommodate inputs and community participation,” added Nur.

Muhammad Nur, Walhi Aceh

Read the full article in Indonesian:

International Day of Action: #SaveLeuserEcosystem

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

With only a stroke of his pen Indonesia’s President SB Yudhoyono could stop the deforestation before he goes out of office.

Join our International Day of Action on the 22nd September to remind him of his promise to save the forest. It only takes four easy steps to take part:

  1. Print out one of our posters or create your own.
  2. Take a selfie holding the poster in front of a tree or get a bunch of friends together for it. The more people (and trees) the merrier!
  3. Tweet your photo on Twitter with the following text:
    Keep your promise @SBYudhoyono and #SaveLeuserEcosystem. @endoftheicons #Climate2014
  4. Share widely with all your friends and networks.

The deadline for sending your photos for inclusion in the International Day of Action is at 9am Monday 22nd September Jakarta (+7GMT) time.

Poster 1

Poster 1

Poster 2

Poster 2

Poster 3

Poster 3

Poster 4

Poster 4

Poster 5

Poster 5










And for bonus points: Tweet and tweet again EVERY DAY.

Here’s some ideas, or make your own:

  • Actions speak louder than words @SBYudhoyono. Protect the forests, protect our climate and #SaveLeuserEcosystem. @endoftheicons #Climate2014
  • I also do not want to tell my grandchildren we could not save the forests @SBYudhoyono. #SaveLeuserEcosystem @endoftheicons #Climate2014
  • Walk the talk @SBYudhoyono and #SaveLeuserEcosystem. @endoftheicons #Climate2014
  • The clock is ticking down. Leave a green legacy for your granddaughter @SBYudhoyono and #SaveLeuserEcosystem. @endoftheicons #Climate2014
  • @SBYudhoyono, stand for REFORESTATION not deforestation of Indonesia. #SaveLeuserEcosystem @endoftheicons #Climate2014

Happy action, and thank you!

If you don’t know how to tweet watch this video for instructions.
Or share the picture on Facebook:
Or send us your picture by mail to

Indonesian activist wins Goldman Prize for fighting palm oil, deforestation

Rhett A. Butler,
April 28, 2014

Rudi Putra, photo courtesy of Goldman Prize

Rudi Putra, photo courtesy of Goldman Prize

An Indonesian has won the world’s most prestigious award for environmental activism for his efforts to fight illegal logging, forest encroachment for palm oil production, and a policy that would open up vast swathes of an endangered ecosystem for mining and industrial plantations. 

Rudi Putra, a biologist who works in Sumatra’s Aceh Province, was on Monday honored with the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. Putra was selected as the “Islands and Island Nations” winner. 

Putra was recognized for his campaign to dismantle illegal oil palm plantations within Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, a habitat for critically endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants, as well as his activism around a plan to remove protected status for vast areas of forest across Aceh. That activism culminated in 2013 with a petition asking the Indonesian government to enforce conservation laws and reject Aceh’s proposal. The petition was signed more than 1.4 million times, catalyzing broader awareness of the issue and sparking intense international outcry. 

The Goldman Environmental Foundation highlighted Putra’s effort to restore wildlife corridors in areas that were once illegal oil palm plantations.

      With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.
      He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.
    Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.

Ian Singleton, an orangutan conservationist who has worked with Putra for years, agreed that the activist has had an outsized impact. 

“He has always struck me as one of the most focused and dedicated Indonesian conservationists I have ever met,” Singleton told “He is certainly not one to make a song and dance of things, and instead keeps a low profile, plugging away at an issue until eventually his hard work pays off.” 

“Rudi is a leading member of a large team of various players working hard to halt a devastating new spatial plan in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, which would destroy huge tracts of the Leuser Ecosystem and spell the death knell for its remaining elephants and rhinos, and possibly orangutans and tigers as well. This battle is far from won, but without people like Rudi taking part it would be a far harder battle to win.” 

Rudi Putra watching an oil palm tree being cut down in Aceh. Photo courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Rudi Putra watching an oil palm tree being cut down in Aceh. Photo courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Due to criticism, Aceh’s spatial plan revision as originally proposed is now in limbo. The central government in Jakarta and the Aceh government have yet to come to an agreement that would allow the plan to proceed, buying environmentalists more time to make a case for protecting the province’s endangered forests. Putra is hopeful the Goldman Prize will now boost help that effort. 

“The government has failed to do enough to stop forest conversion for oil palm — large areas of forest are not covered by the moratorium,” he told “It has also failed to stop encroachment, illegal logging, and mining inside conservation areas.” 

“This fight is far from over but the Goldman Prize will help.” 




Dear Teman – teman pelindung hutan Aceh,

Saya menulis untuk berterima kasih atas bantuan Anda dalam kampanye penjagaan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser dan meminta anda untuk mendukung petisi kami yang baru dan mendesak. Tolong tanda tangani dan sebarkan hari ini!

Tahun lalu Anda telah menciptakan gelombang protes publik terhadap pengrusakan hutan rawa gambut Tripa di Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser. Pada saat yang sama Indonesia dibanjiri dengan pesan positif dari para pendukung, ilmuwan dan ekonom di seluruh dunia bahwa Ekosistem Leuser layak pengakuan penuh sebagai Kasawan Warisan Dunia UNESCO Site (1) .

Berkat dukungan Anda, akhirnya kemenangan besar dapat dicapai. Pada bulan Januari, ketika salah satu perusahaan kelapa sawit illegal yang membakar hutan di Tripa dituntut dan didenda sampai dengan lebih dari US $ 30 juta. Ini adalah keputusan bersejarah di Indonesia dan menetapkan preseden penting bagi masa depan penegakan hukum untuk melindungi hutan-hutan di Indonesia (2).

Sayangnya preseden ini mungkin perlu diuji dalam waktu dekat. Parlemen Aceh baru – baru ini mengesahkan rencana tata ruang Aceh, yang sepenuhnya mengabaikan status perlindungan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, melanggar peraturan yang lebih tinggi dan membuka pintu untuk perkebunan kelapa sawit, pembalakan, pertambangan dan pembangunan jalan di dalam Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser. Jika pemerintah pusat Indonesia tidak menganulir rencana tata ruang ilegal ini maka kita akan menghadapi pertempuran di ranah hukum tidak hanya untuk hutan rawa gambut Tripa tetapi untuk seluruh 2,2 juta hektar Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser yang terletak di Aceh .

Jika Presiden SBY membiarkan rencana tata ruang ini disahkan begitu saja, hutan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser yang megah dan kaya akan hancur dalam waktu singkat.

Tapi ada kesempatan untuk membalikkan keadaan sebelum kehancuran Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser semakin parah.

Kementrian dalam negeri Indonesia telah mengajukan evaluasi perda/qanun yang kuat dan menyeluruh, meminta pemerintahan Aceh untuk merevisi perda tata ruang dan memasukkan perlindungan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, sesuai amanah undang – undang.  Di saat yang bersamaan, sekarang juga waktu pemilihan umum di Indonesia; Presiden SBY akan lebih memilih untuk meninggalkan warisan perlindungan lingkungan dan pembangunan berkelanjutan daripada dikenang sebagai presiden yang mengizinkan penghancuran hutan hujan tropis paling signifikan yang tersisa di Asia Tenggara.

Kami baru saja mendapat kabar bahwa Parlemen Aceh mengabaikan permintaan pemerintah pusat untuk merevisi perda tata ruang dan memilih untuk melanjutkan rencana konversi hutan besar-besaran. Oleh karena itu Presiden SBY harus segera membatalkan perda ini demi hukum, atau kita menghadapi ancaman kepunahan orangutan Sumatran, badak, gajah dan harimau selama-lamanya.

Jika cukup dari kita menunjukkan dukungan untuk membatalkan perda tata ruang Aceh yang ilegal secara hokum ini, perda tersebut tidak bisa disahkan begitu saja secara diam-diam.

Kami telah memiliki umpan balik positif pada petisi dari para pemangku kepentingan dan itu adalah bagian dari strategi yang lebih luas , tetapi untuk memastikan kita dapat mencapai tujuan kami untuk melindungi dan mengembalikan Ekosistem Leuser , kita benar-benar membutuhkan kemarahan global. Silakan masuk dan berbagi link secara luas . Saya terima kasih sebelumnya .



1. Sebarkan permohonan ini melalui setiap jaringan media sosial yang Anda miliki :

2. Tweet berita ini (tag Presiden Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dan Menteri Dalam Negeri di Indonesia, Mr Gamawan Fauzi) dengan tag masing-masing : @presidenSBY , @GamawanFauzi

Beberapa tweet yang dapat digunakan :

Selamatkan tempat terakhir di bumi untuk orangutan Sumatera , badak , gajah dan harimau @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Indonesia harus mengambil keputusan yang bijaksana terhadap Qanun RTRW Aceh @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Mendorong Pemerintah Indonesia untuk membatalkan rencana tata ruang Aceh dan melindungi Leuser Ecosytem @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Qanun RTRW Aceh melanggar peraturan Nasional. Menyerukan Pemerintah Pusat untuk melindungi Leuser ! @SBYudhoyono & @GamawanFauzi

Peraturan telah diabaikan dan suara publik dilupakan. @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi tolong batalkan Qanun RTRW Aceh

Selamatkan masyarakat Aceh dari banjir bandang. @ presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi dapat membatalkan rencana tata ruang

Batalkan Qanun RTRW Aceh atau orangutan sumatera & badak akan mengalami kepunahan @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser melindungi masyarakat dari banjir yang mematikan. SBY, batalkan Qanun RTRW Aceh @ presidenSBY , @ GamawanFauzi

Terima kasih yang tulus dan tak terhingga untuk semua dukungan Anda dalam mendorong perlindungan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser #TheLastPlaceOnEarth


Dear Friends of Aceh’s Forests,

I’m writing to thank you for your continued help in safeguarding the Leuser Ecosystem and to ask you to support our new urgent petition. Please sign and share today!

Last year you helped create a wave of public protest against the destruction of the Tripa peat swamp forests in the Leuser Ecosystem. At the same time Indonesia was inundated with the positive message from supporters, scientists and economists all around the world that the Leuser Ecosystem deserves full recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1).

Thanks to your continued support, we finally saw a major win in January when one of the palm oil companies illegally burning Tripa was prosecuted and received fines and reparation costs of over US$30 million. This was a historic ruling in Indonesia and sets a crucial precedent for future legal battles to protect Indonesia’s forests (2).

Unfortunately this precedent may need to be relied upon sooner rather than later. The Aceh Parliament recently passed a spatial plan by-law that entirely ignores the protected status of the entire Leuser Ecosystem in order to open it up for palm oil, logging, mining and roads. If Indonesia’s central government does not cancel this illegal spatial plan then we will be facing a legal battle not only for Tripa peat swamp forests but for the entire 2.2 million hectares of the Leuser Ecosystem that lies within Aceh.

If President SBY allows this spatial plan by-law to go through, the vast magnificent forests of the Leuser Ecosystem will be destroyed.

But there is a chance to turn things around before the fires are lit in the Leuser Ecosystem.

The Indonesian Ministry of Domestic affairs has submitted a strong evaluation of the by-law and asked Aceh to revise it so that it protects the Leuser Ecosystem. Now is also election time in Indonesia, and the current Indonesian president would prefer to leave a legacy of progress in environmental protection and sustainable development than to be remembered as the president who allowed the destruction of the most significant tropical rainforest remnant in Southeast Asia.

We’ve just learnt that the Aceh Parliament plans to ignore the central government’s request for revisions and go ahead with the forest conversion. Therefore President SBY must cancel the by-law now otherwise we face the very real threat of losing Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers for good. 

If enough of us show our support for the cancellation of this illegal Aceh by-law, it cannot be allowed to just pass quietly through.

We have already had positive feedback on the petition from stakeholders and it is part of a much broader strategy, but to ensure we can achieve our goal to protect and restore the Leuser Ecosystem, we really need a global outrage. Please sign and share the link widely. I thank you in advance.


1.   Share the petition through every social media network you have:

2. Tweet this news (tag Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Indonesia’s Domestic Affairs Minister (Mr Gamawan Fauzi) with the respective tags: @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Some suggested tweets:

Save the last place on Earth for Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Indonesia pls stand by wise decision on spatial plan for the sake of Aceh’s forest @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Encourage the Indonesian Govt to cancel Aceh’s spatial plan and protect the Leuser Ecosytem, @GamawanFauzi

The spatial plan violates National Law. Call on Jakarta Central Govt to protect Leuser! @SBYudhoyono, @GamawanFauzi

The law has been broken and Aceh’s people ignored. SBY please reject Aceh’s spatial plan, @GamawanFauzi

Save Aceh communities from flashfloods. The Jakarta Govt can stop the spatial plan @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Cancel the Aceh spatial plan or Sumatran orangutans & rhinos will risk extinction @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

The Leuser Ecosystem protects Aceh’s people from deadly floods. SBY, stop the spatial plan, @GamawanFauzi

Sincerest thanks again for all your support in the push to protect the Leuser Ecosystem! #TheLastPlaceOnEarth

Kind regards from Aceh,

end of the icons team

Palm Oil: The Other Kind of Oil Spill

News Watch, National Geographic 

A worker carries a palm oil sapling onto a cleared area to be planted in the coming days, after purpose lit fires go out in Tripa's peat forest, 13 June 2012, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to a field team from the coalition of NGO's to protect Tripa, that visited the area. Fires are continuing to be lit in the highly threatened Tripa Peat Forest despite assurances from the Indonesian central government that ‘triple track’ legal action was underway and a small area of the Peat Forest had returned to the moratorium map central to the multibillion agreement between Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emission from burning the carbon dense Peat Forests. Photo: Paul Hilton/SOCP/YEL (HANDOUT PHOTO, EDITORIAL USE ONLY)

A worker carries a palm oil sapling onto a cleared area to be planted in the coming days, after purpose lit fires go out in Tripa’s peat forest, 13 June 2012, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to a field team from the coalition of NGO’s to protect Tripa, that visited the area. Fires are continuing to be lit in the highly threatened Tripa Peat Forest despite assurances from the Indonesian central government that ‘triple track’ legal action was underway and a small area of the Peat Forest had returned to the moratorium map central to the multibillion agreement between Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emission from burning the carbon dense Peat Forests. Photo: Paul Hilton/SOCP/YEL (HANDOUT PHOTO, EDITORIAL USE ONLY)

By Elissa Sursara

Max laid hidden beneath the charred remains of a palm oil tree. He was frightened, injured, and falling in and out of consciousness.

I clicked my tongue and inched closer, hoping to soothe him. He eyed me curiously, hugging tightly to the branches. All around, the Tanjung Puting National Park burned, accidentally set alight by plantation workers who had cleared the surrounding land to harvest the palm oil plant. Separated from his family, Max had fallen casualty to the plantation fire, sustaining burns to his face and body.

In a swift move, I threw Max onto my back and raced toward the rescue team a few hundred meters away. As the smoke filled my lungs and hit my face, I felt Max’ grip become loose and his body become limp. Eventually his breathing stopped, and he died.

Like thousands of orangutans before him, Max was the victim of a different kind of oil spill: the trade in palm oil.

Palm oil monoculture is palming off orangutans in record numbers. Today, less than 70,000 orangutans exist in small wild pockets in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Populations are patchy and both species of orangutan are considered endangered, with conversion of land for palm oil plantation believed to be the species’ biggest threat.

Today, the controversial palm oil process is again at the forefront of environmental news, with Greenpeace staging international protests against a multinational consumer goods company for allegedly using palm oil tied to a supplier with links to tropical forest destruction.

Found in some 75 percent of everyday products, palm oil (sometimes known as vegetable oil) is the edible oil derived from the fleshy middle layer of the fruit of the oil palm. It acts as a cooking agent and is a popular household ingredient. As of 2010, it was the most widely used edible oil in the world, holding approximately 32 percent of the world’s oil market. Palm oil is found in McDonalds, Cadbury chocolates, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, KFC and KFC packaging, Dove and Avon personal care products, Herbal Essence shampoo, Clinique cosmetics, Tim Tams, Kit-Kats and Malteasers, Ritz crackers, Colgate and Palmolive toothpaste, Mars Incorporated chocolates and in Mary Kay, Covergirl, Lancome, Sephora, and Urban Decay cosmetics.

Scientists predict the average consumer uses at least one palm oil product per day.

Approximately 66 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations and 87 percent of Malaysia’s plantations involve some form of documented forest conversion, displacing orangutans and disorienting their ability to find food and seek shelter. Since plantations are often close to villages, lost orangutans sometimes encroach on human settlement. The results are often deadly.

In 2010, animal rights group International Animal Rescue recorded “unspeakable cruelty” toward orangutans in Peniraman, remote Borneo, after a female orangutan and her baby wandered nearby a plantation in search of food. Angry workers allegedly hurled stones and waved sticks at the mother before binding the pair with rope and forcing their heads under the water. The mother later died.

To resolve the palm oil problem, environmental organizations have proposed sustainable palm oil process like a “no deforestation” policy suggested by Greenpeace. The initiatives seek to effectively reduce the pressure on endangered orangutans and their habitats, inherently safeguarding their populations.

WWF has pointed out: “other big palm oil consumers such as Unilever, Ferrero, L’Oreal, Delhaize, Kellog and the world’s biggest palm oil trader, Wilmar International, have all committed to no deforestation.”

Consumer support is also important in the protection of orangutans from harmful palm oil operations, WWF said, which can be facilitated by “palming off” unsustainable palm oil product.