Thu, 12 Feb 2004

N. Sumatra and Asahan Authority to save Lake Toba ecosystem

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed by the provincial government of North Sumatra and the Asahan Authority, to save Lake Toba in the province.

Having signed the MOU, North Sumatra Governor T. Rizal Nurdin and head of the Asahan Authority Saut M.P. Hutauruk, said that the two institutions would help protect the environment and ecosystem of Lake Toba.

The signing of the MOU on Tuesday was witnessed by nine regents and mayors -- whose regencies or mayoralties are in the vicinity of Lake Toba -- and three noted environmentalists, who were formerly ministers, Emil Salim, Sjarifuddin Baharsjah and Justika Baharsjah.

Rizal and Saut put forward separate statements underlining their belief that cooperation was vital if Lake Toba was to be saved.

Saut further explained that both parties should plan the protection program together to ensure that they stayed true to their initial objectives.

Rizal, when interviewed by The Jakarta Post, said that at present the conservation of Lake Toba was hindered by the traditional practice of burning the forest to clear land for farming.

He said that enceng gondok (water hyacinth) growing in the lake were also damaging the environment, along with fish farms operated by big companies. "This seriously pollutes the lake," he asserted.

Some district heads have also complained about the enceng gondok in Lake Toba.

The regent of Samosir, Wilmar Simarjorang, said that water hyacinth were now growing in the lake from Pasanggrahan to Sitio areas.

According to him, this caused the lake to be so polluted that tourists -- both foreign and domestic -- were reluctant to swim there.

Rizal said that various steps to save Lake Toba had been devised by the provincial government as well as the Asahan Authority, including the organization of an environmental summit.

After the summit, to be held as soon as possible, it is hoped that the Asahan Authority, and the government will allocate funds for various activities, such as reforestation and clearing enceng gondok from the lake. "We will also campaign to encourage the international community to join the program," said Rizal.

He said that seven targets had been specified in the MOU, namely: that the water of Lake Toba would be fit for drinking, that swimming would be safe, that fish farmed in the lake and produce grown in the vicinity would be fit for consumption, that the ecosystem would be protected, that power generation would be established in the lake area and that flora and fauna in the area would be protected and the air free from pollution.