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Aceh reconstruction brings threat of landslides and flash floods


16 Dec 2005, Sydney, Australia – Reconstruction in Indonesia’s tsunami-devastated Aceh province will lead to landslides and flash floods if timber from Indonesian forests is used, says WWF.

With the major reconstruction phase about to begin in Aceh following the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people in the region, WWF has warned that sourcing timber from Indonesia’s already depleted forests would result in further tragedy for the people of Aceh.

Deforestation in Indonesia has been blamed for landslides and flash floods that have killed hundreds of people in recent years and left thousands homeless. In early 2004, thousands of people in four districts of Aceh were forced to flee their flooded homes when heavy rains on denuded forest slopes caused flash flooding. In 2005, there have been at least three landslides and two major floods in Aceh, causing further loss of lives, homes and infrastructure.

The Indonesian government’s reconstruction agency BRR estimates that 200,000 permanent houses are needed, requiring at least 860,000 cubic metres of sawn timber over five years. If this timber is taken from Indonesian forests, the result will be further environmental degradation, species loss, and further suffering for the Acehnese people.

“Unless there is a commitment by those involved in reconstruction to use imported timber from well-managed forests, major reconstruction projects are likely to rely on timber logged from Sumatra’s already-depleted forests,” said WWF Global Tsunami Response Coordinator Ralph Ashton.

“This will lead to more floods and landslides – what has been described as a ‘tsunami from the hills’ – and the potential for further tragedy for the Indonesian people.”

Obtaining the timber needed for reconstruction projects from Indonesian forests would also result in the destruction of habitat for some of the world’s most iconic species. Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos, sunbears, orang-utans and gibbons are among a range of threatened species in the area that stand to lose remaining habitat if the timber needed for reconstruction is logged from local forests.

“With the major phase of reconstruction about to begin in Aceh, those involved in the reconstruction effort need to plan ahead to use timber from well-managed forests in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA,” Ashton added.

“By taking the short-sighted option of using timber from Indonesian forests, the development community might well solve the immediate acute problem of rebuilding houses, but in the process cause more chronic problems for livelihoods and natural resource security in other parts of Indonesia. That is not wise decision-making.”

Anticipating these and other environmental issues, WWF published a set of Green Reconstruction Guidelines in April 2005 to ensure that reconstruction efforts in the region do not result in further environmental devastation. The guidelines were endorsed by the Acting Governor of Aceh and have been widely accepted at a policy level by governments, NGOs and UN agencies. These guidelines have been developed to bring environmental considerations to any future reconstruction efforts around the world.

Bill Marsden, a Senior Technical Advisor with the British Red Cross, said his organization found only a very limited volume of Indonesian timber that it could be sure was from legal and well-managed sources. He also said Indonesian timber from legal and well-managed sources turned out to be more expensive than imported timber.

“Our donors in Britain know about the problems of over-logging in Indonesia’s forests and expect us to do the right thing for the long term,” Marsden said. “It’s possible, it hasn’t slowed us down, and there really is no excuse for permanent housing projects to be using anything but sustainably-sourced timber.”

The British Red Cross, Oxfam, and Premiere Urgence have all started importing sustainably-sourced timber, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are assessing responses to its tender for similar timber. WWF has arranged for the shipment of donated timber from the USA, with the first containers arriving in the last month.

“Most people involved in reconstruction understood that without a healthy environment their efforts would only result in short-term fixes,” Ashton said. "“What we need are solutions that deliver sustainable livelihoods in the long term.”


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