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Activists fight development of World Heritage site in Aceh

Plan could put half of Aceh's protected forests at risk, they claim

Activists fight development of World Heritage site in Aceh

Deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem caused major flooding in 2007

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

December 12, 2013

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Environmentalists in Aceh province have decried a local government plan to open areas of a Unesco World Heritage site to commercial development, saying it would endanger one of the country’s most vital ecosystems.

Muhammad Nur, director of the province’s chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said the plan – a draft regulation scheduled for signing by provincial Governor Zaini Abdullah – would further imperil Indonesia’s already disappearing forests.

“The regulation that will be approved at the end of December paves the way for palm oil and mining companies,” Nur said at a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.

At risk under the plan, say activists, are more than half a million acres of the 2.2 million acre Leuser Ecosystem, named under the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra as a World Heritage site in 2004 and inscribed in 2011 on Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

Covering more than 2.6 million hectares, the ecosystem has a rich diversity of plant and animal life that would be irreparably damaged by further development, the Forum says.

“It means that Aceh will lose half of its forests if the drafted regulation is approved,” Nur said.

“According to the information we received, there are five oil palm companies urging the government to issue permits for using protected forests,” he said.

Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said the government must protect the ecosystem to prevent a further decline in the population of the species, which dropped sharply in the past two decades.

He said further incursions into the ecosystem could result in the orangutans’ extinction within the next few years.

Activists have also launched an online petition calling on Aceh’s governor to honor the heritage status of the ecosystem. 

They said the Leuser forest area is important as it provides a source of clean water for at least four million people in the province, and is an important resource for irrigation.

Husaini Syamaun, head of the Aceh Forestry Department, said the plan was not the result of pressure from business groups but aimed at protecting the local people who rely on the land for their livelihoods.

“We also think about our people, not just the forests and wild animals,” he told 

“Who should be the priority? People, right?”

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