The Jakarta Post
Debris from landslides reportedly caused by illegal logging covered Siduadua Bridge on the transSumatra highway in Sibaganding subdistrict, Simalungun regency, North Sumatra, for some time.
Since Dec. 18, when the first landslide hit, traffic on the bridge that connects Pematang Siantar and the renowned tourist resort of Lake Toba was hampered by the debris, forcing thousands of motorists to seek alternative routes.
Traffic returned to normal on Sunday after a joint team cleared the debris that weighed over 100 tons.
The executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) North Sumatra branch, Dana Prima Tarigan, said landslides remained a major threat to the area around Lake Toba’s hills due to rampant illegal logging.
“People living around Lake Toba, including those in Sibaganding, have to be cautious because more landslides can hit at any time,” Dana told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
He said landslides, which often affected the Siduadua Bridge in Sibaganding, were not merely caused by rain, adding that Walhi often received reports from locals regarding illegal logging activities in Sibaganding, with trucks reportedly going in and out of the protected forest.
“Relevant government agencies and law enforcement officials should take firm action against these illegal practices,” Dana added.
North Sumatra Police chief Insp. Gen. Agus Andrianto said the police do not know what was behind the frequent landslides in the Lake Toba area. “We are currently investigating it.”
North Sumatra Tourism Agency’s marketing division head, Muchlis, said landslides have seriously affected the tourism industry. He added that the number of tourist visits dropped by 30 percent since the debris covered the access road to Lake Toba.
“If continued, [landslides] will create a new problem for Lake Toba tourism,” Muchlis told the Post.
The first landslide on Dec. 18 in Sibaganding occurred at about 4:45 p.m., damaging several vehicles. No fatalities were reported then.
Another one occurred on Dec. 30 at the same spot, followed by a bigger landslide two days later, blocking access to Parapat, Lake Toba.
Muchlis feared that a big water reservoir on top of the hill could also come crashing down.
“This is dangerous. We want to settle this soon,” he said.
Previously, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) predicted that hydrometeorological disasters such as floods, landslides and puting beliung (small tornadoes) will continue to dominate and make up about 95 percent of total disasters this year.
Deforestation and damage to watersheds have contributed to the increasing number of hydrometeorological disasters over the years. The high level of critical land, which the Forestry and Environment Ministry defines as land that has an ecologically reduced function, is also a contributing factor. (swa)