The Jakarta Post
Environmental activists have blamed annual floods in Langkat regency, North Sumatra, on serious forest damage in the plateau area of Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL).
Large-scale illegal logging has also led the lowland area's mangrove forests to the brink of extinction, hindering its ability to absorb water, according to the activists.
'Within the TNGL area there are now thousands of houses erected illegally by illegal loggers. But the authorities don't do anything about it,' local environmental activist Tajruddin Hasibuan told The Jakarta Post recently.
Hasibuan said that Langkat had been a flood-free region when both the forests in TNGL and the mangroves in the lowland area were left untouched.
But now, with both upland and lowland forest seriously damaged, the regency is plagued by floods.
Hasibuan revealed that there was only a small area of forest remaining in the mountainous area, while much of the lowland had been converted into housing complexes or plantations, making it unable to absorb rainwater.
He added that in the 1980s, there had been about 35,000 hectares of mangroves forests in Langkat. The figure has decreased to 18,000 ha presently, of which 6,700 ha is damaged.
Similarly, within the TNGL, around 40,000 ha of forest had been damaged, the activist explained. Of this, 2,000 ha had been converted into a housing complex for some 1,500 families of illegal loggers.
Hasibuan said that the damage in TNGL and mangrove forests in Langkat continued to increase year after year. The government, he asserted, turned a blind eye to the practice of illegal logging.
Langkat regency administration spokesperson Rizal Gultom denied the accusation, arguing that it had repeatedly tried to curb the practice, but had not yet succeeded.
He claimed the sheer numbers of illegal loggers in the area made them difficult to handle.
'We don't want to be accused of violating human rights. That's why we handle them delicately through calls and discussions,' Rizal told the Post on Sunday.
He did not deny that damage in TNGL and mangrove forests had led to floods in Langkat. Many of the land conversions committed by the illegal loggers, he said, had violated the regency's spatial planning laws.
'That's the problem. In the future, we will put this in order so the annual floods do not return to Langkat,' Rizal said.
Flood have inundated thousands of homes in five districts in the regency for more than a week, with three villages in Tanjungpura district the worst hit.
The floods in Pekubuan, Lalang and Pekan Tanjungpura have not subsided, with more water flowing in from neighboring Hinai district, Tanjungpura district chief Surianto said.
In Pekan Tanjungpura, hundreds of houses and a public hospital are still flooded, forcing around 500 villages to take refuge in emergency camps set up by the Langkat disaster mitigation office (BPBD).
Relief aid including food and mineral water has been sent to flood victims.
The BPBD recorded that floods had submerged at least 7,791 houses in five districts, killing one villager. Floodwaters between 50 and 110 centimetres high have affected 22 villages across Langkat.
Water swamped 4,184 houses in Tanjungpura district, 433 houses in Sawit Seberang, 667 houses in Batang Serangan, 1,913 houses in Hinai and 594 houses in Wampu district. The floods in the district were triggered by heavy downpours that started on Jan. 14. A day later, the floods had spread to a number of villages, including Pematang Cengal Barat, Pekubuan, Lalang, Baja Kuning and Teluk Bakung.
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