Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Debate over effect of logging heats up

AP , BANGKOK

Landslides and flash floods in Indonesia that killed as many as 180 people have set off a heated debate over the role logging may have played in the disaster that covered scores of homes in mud and rock.

Local environmentalists say logging in central Java worsened the situation and exposed the government's failure to rein in illegal logging rampant across the archipelago.

But the administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono denies that logging was to blame and has found unlikely support from international conservation groups. Yudhoyono said the best way to avoid future disasters was to move people from hilly areas or near fertile, flood plains.

They said the cause of the landslide likely had more to do with the makeup of central Java, where thousands live in flood-prone areas and farmers have torn down forests to clear agriculture land and plantations.

"Often the knee-jerk reaction to such tragic disasters is to blame them on excessive tree logging," said Greg Clough, a spokesman with The Center for International Forestry Research, a conservation group.

"Sure, deforestation may play a small part in flooding," he said. "But strong scientific evidence suggests even good forest cover will not prevent flooding in cases like Jember, where reportedly heavy rains fell for several days. Exceptionally long and heavy downfalls saturate the forest soil, making them unable to absorb more water.''

The landslides have reignited the logging issue and pushed it onto the front pages of local papers. The concern has also put the government on the defensive.

"There is no illegal logging case as reported by the media. The disaster is caused by the conversion of many forest areas to become coffee plantations," Forestry Minister Malam Kaban said while visiting Jember.

Forest Watch Indonesia and other environmentalists are not convinced and have called on the government to get tough on logging, especially illegal cutting that contributes to 90 percent of all timber.

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