The Jakarta Post
Deforestation around Lake Toba in North Sumatra continues despite the central government's plan to turn Southeast Asia's biggest lake into one of the country's 10 major tourist destinations.
Over 5 hectares of forest in Harian district, Sianjur Mula-Mula, Samosir regency, were reportedly razed by fire in recent days.
Tumpal Sijabat of Samosir suspected that the fire may have been deliberately lit to clear land for plantation purposes. 'The fire has been burning for a week but efforts to extinguish it were very slow, so the whole forest has already burned,' he said on Monday.
Similarly, Marandus Sirait of Toba Samosir regency expressed concern over the condition of forests in the Lake Toba area, saying that most of the area had been damaged because of land clearing and illegal logging.
Marandus, who is also a recipient of the 2015 Kalpataru Award in the environmental pioneer category, said that deforestation was evident in Ajibata, Lumbanjulu and Bonatualunasi districts in Toba Samosir regency, Tele district in Samosir regency and Gersang Sipanganbolon district on the border of Toba Samosir and Parapat, Simalungun.
'It's shameful to see the damage, especially because the government in the near future will turn the area into an international tourist destination,' Marandus told The Jakarta Post earlier this week.
He said he had repeatedly protested deforestation in the area but was never listened to. He even returned in 2013 the Wana Lestari Award he received from the forestry ministry in 2010 as an expression of protest.
He said serious measures had not been taken by local administrations to preserve forests in the area following the central government's plans to make it a world-class tourist destination, the ground-breaking of which was recently conducted by President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo.
'What will happen to Lake Toba if the forests are barren? One thing is for sure, it will no longer be cool and it will be less beautiful,' said Marandus, who manages the 45-hectare Eden Park property belonging to his family in Toba Samosir.
Samosir administration spokesperson Lemen Manurung admitted that there had been forest fires in Sianjur Mula-Mula and Pangururan but said they had been extinguished.
'According to information, the fire has been extinguished, but if it is still there we will check on it,' Lemen said.
Responding to a question regarding preparations to make Lake Toba a world-class tourist destination, Lemen said the administration was still waiting for a government decree on the establishment of the Lake Toba authority body.
'It's the body that is tasked with coordinating the development of Lake Toba,' he said.
Jokowi visited the area two weeks ago to instruct relevant ministers regarding the acceleration of the development of the area into the 'Monaco of Asia'.
He asked the North Sumatra administration and the administrations of all regencies in the area to work in synergy with the relevant ministries.
The government has allocated Rp 21 trillion (US$1.6 billion) for the development, Rp 10 trillion of which is from the state budget, with the remainder from the private sector. Most of the funds are allotted for infrastructure development.
The infrastructure to be developed includes a 116-kilometer toll road. With the new road, traveling to Parapat, on the shores of Lake Toba, from the provincial capital Medan, which currently takes five to six hours, will only take 90 minutes.
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