Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Forest law enforcement conference opens in Bali

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): A three-day East Asia Regional Ministerial Conference on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) was officially opened here on Tuesday by Director General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation Wahjudi Wardojo.

The first day's session, which was closed to the media, was also attended by Tom Walton of the World Bank.

The first two days of the meeting will consist of technical discussions where nongovernmental organizations and representatives from the private sector will participate, while the third day will be ministerial, conclude with a statement of political commitment for action at the national and regional level, the organizing committee said.

On the eve of the conference, activists from various NGOs, including NADI, Greenpeace, Telapak, Forest Watch, JIKA and AMAN, held a joint media briefing here, urging that the government immediately impose a moratorium to all industrial-scale tree- felling activities in Indonesia.

The activists warned, should the government fail it would not only cost the country its already heavily damaged tropical forest, but it would also cause some US$7 billion in losses and make hundreds of thousands of people unemployed.

"We predict that the forest in Sumatra will be completely destroyed in the next five years, Kalimantan's forests in the next 10 years and Irian Jaya's forests in the next 15 years unless the government has the courage to carry out the moratorium policy," Longgena Ginting of the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) said here on Monday.

Through the moratorium, arbitrary tree-felling could be halted for a certain period of time, during which the government would launch an extensive forest rehabilitation program, restructure the forestry industry to make it more efficient, he said.

At the same time, the government also had to provide alternative sources of income for thousands of forestry workers.

"China's moratorium policy caused one million workers to lose their jobs, but 500,000 of them were later employed in state- funded forest rehabilitation projects and another 250,000 were hired as forest security officers," Ginting said.

Ginting identified widespread corruption, illegal tree-felling and excessive demand for timber as the prime causes behind the destruction of Indonesia's forests.

The forestry industry needed 100 million cubic meters of timber each year. Official records show that Indonesia's forests supplied 21.4 million cubic meters of timber, some 21.9 million cubic meters of timber were imported to meet the industry's demands.

"So there was a gap of some 56.6 million cubic meters between the supply and demand. This gap has triggered wide-scale illegal tree-felling," Ginting said.

Current data showed that Indonesia had lost 72 percent of its natural forest so far. Indonesia's rate of deforestation had reached 2.4 million hectares per year, one of the highest in the world.

Furthermore, illegal tree-felling has destroyed 56.6 million cubic meters of forest per year, while forest fires have claimed 10 million hectares between 1997 and 1998 alone.

"There is no doubt that our forest is in a very critical situation, the only viable solution is a moratorium," Ginting stated.

Latest records published by the Ministry of Forestry indicate that Indonesia now has only 66 million hectares of productive forest left. (zen)