Timber crisis follows tsunami

Posted: 28 April 2005

Aceh's already shattered landscape faces further devastation if donor countries do not immediately supply the tsunami-stricken province with sustainable timber. The warning was made in Jakarta, at the launch of a set of reconstruction guidelines to strengthen and safeguard Aceh's environment against future threats.

The guidelines, developed by WWF, come at a time when there is mounting pressure to see delivery of the vast sums of aid promised by the international community. Millions of people around the world donated money to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 300,000 people on 26 December 2004.

Yet exactly four months after the event, major reconstruction has still not begun in Aceh where thousands of people remain displaced and homeless.

The call for imported sustainable timber for Aceh is the first phase of a reconstruction effort designed to minimize the impacts that large-scale rebuilding would have on the province's already damaged environment. A report by WWF and Indonesian policy research institution Greenomics estimates that one million cubic metres of timber will be needed to rebuild Aceh over the next five years.

Massive deforestation

"Aceh faces the likelihood of further humanitarian and ecological disasters unless timber for reconstruction is immediately brought into the devastated Indonesian province," said Mubariq Ahmad, Executive Director of WWF-Indonesia. "If the amount of timber needed for the reconstruction of Aceh was sourced locally, the result would be massive deforestation, which would lead to further floods and landslides and the potential for further tragedy for the Indonesian people."

According to WWF, this would also threaten Indonesia's beleaguered wildlife, including species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant, and the region's populations of orang-utans. The situation is made even more critical because Indonesia has already lost 40 per cent of its forest cover over the past 50 years, because of extensive logging practices.

The conservation organisation's Green Reconstruction Policy Guidelines parallel the Master Plan for Aceh's Reconstruction, released by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which also calls for the province to be rebuilt along sustainable lines.

"These guidelines will help provide natural defence barriers against future tsunamis and extreme weather events," said Mubariq Ahmad. "The extensive conversion of coastal mangroves to shrimp ponds had already depleted Aceh's natural defence systems before the tsunami hit, compounding its impact. It is vital that we don't make the same mistakes of the past. We need to rebuild Aceh in a sustainable and safe way for the future well-being of Aceh's people."

Related link:

Tsunami disaster highlights need for environmental protection