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Indonesian churches warn of impending Lake Toba disaster

Deforestation around the country's largest lake is a ticking timebomb, they say

Indonesian churches warn of impending Lake Toba disaster

Lake Toba is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. (Photo: North Sumatra province government)

Environmental destruction has put people living around Indonesia’s largest lake at serious risk of natural disaster, Catholic and other Christian churches have warned.

Deforestation around Lake Toba in Sumatra has caused more frequent flooding, putting the lives of people at risk from mudslides and inundation, they said.

At about 100 kilometers in length and 30 kilometers wide, Toba is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world.

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It is also a major tourist attraction and the site of a super-volcanic eruption that occurred about 75,000 years ago.

However, the biggest risk to life is not an eruption but the flooding that now takes place every year due to mass deforestation around the lake, according to Father Hilarius Kemit, director of the Capuchins' Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Sumatra.

“Local people are often blamed because forests have given way to fields, but the government must shoulder some of the responsibility for having failed to introduce regulations to protect the environment and forests,” he told UCA News.

The government should toughen laws on illegal logging and prevent further clearance

Illegal logging is also rampant in the area, he said, calling on people to “make a stand and fight before they become victims.” 

If they, as well as the local and national governments, don’t act decisively, a major disaster will happen, he warned.

Father Kemit pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, saying the message contained in it was not only for Catholics but for everyone.

Other Christian churches echoed the Catholic priest’s warning.

The Indonesian Batak Protestant Church called on all sectors of society to reverse the environmental destruction taking place around the lake. 

“The government should toughen laws on illegal logging and prevent further clearance,” Reverend Robinson Butarbutar, chairman of the Indonesian Batak Protestant Church, said in a May 16 statement. 

Although authorities have succeeded in turning the area into a major tourism draw to improve local people’s welfare, the environment should not suffer as that will also adversely affect the local population.

“We commit ourselves to cooperate with the government as a partner in protecting the environment and forest,” Reverend Butarbutar told UCA News. 

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