Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Govt told to improve forestry sector data

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A non-governmental organization has called on the government to provide comprehensive data on the forestry sector to help improve the planning and monitoring of the country's fast-disappearing forests.

Forest Watch Indonesia director Togur Manurung said on Wednesday that the current data on the forestry sector was so poor it had triggered mismanagement of the country's forests and further led to natural disasters, such as floods and landslides.

"If the forestry data is not improved, the government will continue to formulate poor strategies for managing our forests," he said.

"In some cases, the lack of data on forest destruction as a result of illegal logging has made the government underestimate the actual problem and take the wrong action in dealing with it."

Togur said the poor data on the forestry sector involved the actual deforestation rate, forest fires damage, the total concession area, and damage to protected forests and conservation areas.

The government has indicated that 5.9 million hectares, or 18 percent of the country's 32 million hectares of protected forests and conservation areas, have been destroyed. But critics insist that the actual figure is much higher as the government does not have enough data.

The government also revised the deforestation rate up from 1.5 million hectares per year in 2002 to 2.1 million hectares per year in 2003.

Based on the government's data, the total area of forest and mining concessions reaches some 200 million hectares, which was clearly exaggerated given that the country's land area only amounts to 191 million hectares.

The damage inflicted by forest fires between 1997 and 1998 was also stated in a very wide range between 200,000 hectares and 5 million hectares in Indonesia's report to the World Summit for Sustainable Development, while another official report said that the area destroyed by forest fires had reached 10 million hectares.

"I think it's the right time for the government to pay more attention to forestry data if it really wants to improve the management of the country's forests," Togur said.

"With the current sophisticated technology like satellite imaging combined with field verification, it's not so difficult to provide accurate data on forestry."

The government also had to give the public access to the forestry sector in a bid to help them understand the actual problems facing the sector, Togur added.

Head of the Forestry Planning Agency at the Ministry of Forestry Boen M. Purnomo denied that the government data on forestry was still deficient.

"I think our data on the forestry sector is improving as in several cases we have used satellite images. But we admit that our field data remains poor as many local governments perceive the collection of data as simply being a waste of money," he explained.

He said that the ministry had carried out satellite image interpretation before releasing data on protected forest destruction despite the controversy over the data.

On forest fire damage, he said that data discrepancies occurred as forestry ministry staff did not monitor the destruction simultaneously. "One set of data might be collected during the early stages of a forest fire, while another set might be collected later."