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March 2003 - JATAN exposes alarming rise in Indonesian logging

JATAN exposes alarming rise in Indonesian logging, March 2003

Miki Fujii / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Whether legal or illegal, heavy logging in Indonesia has devastated precious local wildlife and threatened people whose livelihoods depend on the preservation of local rivers and forest.

"I was torn when I saw the lifeless stretch of dusty barren land with its network of roads made for log-carrying trucks--roads that resemble finger nail scratches on the beautiful land," said Kaori Yamamoto, a member of the
Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN), during a report session held in late February.

The session by the Japanese nongovernmental organization, which is committed to the conservation of tropical forests, covered its visits to Riau Province in Sumatra, Indonesia, in August and October last year.

JATAN members said they witnessed natural trees being logged in the Tessa Nilo forest, which once housed the largest variety of lowland forest plants known to science.

In February last year, the World Wild Fund for Nature called for the protection of the forest area, which is also home to a wide range of animal life, including elephants, tigers, gibbons and tapirs.

According to an international group, 65 timber mills have been identified as operating in the areas surrounding Tessa Nilo.

Heavy logging by both small-scale illegal loggers and international timber and pulp corporations is threatening the livelihoods of locals who have lost their land to logging concessions.

"We met villagers who have either lost income generated from rubber plantations and honey farms without receiving hardly any compensation," JATAN member Takahiro Kohama said.

People have protested against logging companies by blockading roads and holding rallies, although they have often been forced to give up their protests after police intervention.

"The big companies are protected with government logging permits," Kohama said. "But illegally logged trees are also passed on to these companies and even illegally exported to Malaysia, which only last year banned the
importation of logs."

According to the group, labels attached to the logs identifying their origin are often altered to make them appear legitimate.

The rapid rise in Indonesia's pulp production is one of the major reasons behind the increase in demand for logging in Riau Province, JATAN members said.

According to a study by the Center for International Forestry Research and Friends of the Earth, about 90 percent of supplies for Indonesia's pulp industry rely on trees from natural growth forests.

P.T. Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper Co. mill in Pekanbaru, Sumatra, has the world's largest pulp output capacity, producing 2 million tons annually. In the same province, P.T. Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper Tbk. supplies 40 percent of
Indonesia's paper demand with an annual output of 2.3 million tons of pulp and 3.8 million tons of paper.

"The firms' acacia plantation programs cannot keep pace with rising demand, and this is why the industry goes after trees from natural growth forests," Yamamoto said.

Meanwhile, river water contaminated by sewage from the pulp plants is believed to have caused skin irritations among local villagers who traditionally depend on the water for bathing and for some of their food supplies.

In the case of one village, according to JATAN, as many as one in three adults was suffering from a rash, while most of the children were suffering from some kind of skin irritation.

"The villagers didn't seem to be that bothered, it was as if it were just a regular part of their lives," Yamamoto said. "When I was talking to a man (from the village), he kept scratching his neck, which was covered in a
rash."

"Yet the people don't seem to have any intention of suing for damages," said Akira Harada, a JATAN member.

The operation of the plants is also believed to have caused respiratory problems and diarrhea among locals, as well as a shortage of fish in the river.

According to JATAN, paper produced by the two companies supplies 20 percent of the plain paper demand in Japan.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun

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