Illegal logging blamed for North Sumatra flooding

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Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan | Archipelago | Thu, July 12 2012, 6:58 AM

Uncontrolled illegal logging has been blamed for the flash floods in Pematang Siantar and Tapanuli Tengah, North Sumatra that have caused thousands of residents to flee their homes, some of which were submerged by floodwater 5 meters high.

Tapanuli Tengah Regent Raja Bonaran Situmeang said heavy downpours had caused the Sipan Sipahoras dam to overflow.

Situmeang said the Sipan Sipahoras dam could not accommodate any more rainwater because the forests alongside the dam had been destroyed.

“This disaster was solely caused by illegal logging. The forests have been destroyed so there are no longer any trees to absorb rainwater,” Situmeang told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

He admitted that illegal logging had been rampant in Tapanuli Tengah, adding that he was cooperating with police to tackle this problem. Situmeang confirmed the police had arrested several suspects, believed to be backed up by top businessmen.

“Illegal logging and land clearing have claimed thousands of hectares of forest land in Tapanuli Tengah, which is now prone to flooding,” said Bonaran, adding that he planned to plant 50,000 trees in October to try to restore the forests in the region.

Illegal logging has become increasingly widespread in North Sumatra and other parts of Sumatra island, following increasing demands for wood from the construction industry.

Meanwhile, Reinward Simanjuntak, head of Pematang Siantar’s Disaster Mitigation Agency, said the flooding there, which had been caused by the Bah Bolon River overflowing with water levels reaching 3 meters high, had affected seven subdistricts and inundated 158 houses situated along the river.

Reinward said that besides illegal logging, the floods were caused by the converting of tea plantations into oil palm plantations, which had reduced the water catchment area.

No casualties were reported due to the floods, he confirmed.

As of Wednesday 12 p.m., he added, residents were apprehensive about returning to their homes as they were still inundated by water.

“They are staying in safer places. Most of them have chosen to stay with relatives, while the rest are staying in tents, which have been provided for the flood victims,” he said.