The world-renowned Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia is the last place on Earth where Tigers, Elephants, Orangutans, and Rhinos still survive together in the wild.
Conservationists recently breathed a sigh of relief that key threats to the Leuser -- including government schemes for oil palm and mining development that would also promote illegal forest clearing, logging, and poaching -- were being set aside as part of a moratorium on forest destruction.
But dangerous new plans are just on the horizon, with a big push coming from the Aceh Provincial Government.
The biggest new threats are proposed energy plants and roads to be constructed in critically important areas for conservation. These proposals are being touted as promoting sustainable development in Aceh, but in reality they will lead to severe environmental degradation.
Two particularly alarming developments are a massive new geothermal plant planned by Turkish company PT Hitay Panas Energy in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem, and a major hydroelectric scheme on the Kluet River proposed by PT Trinusa Energy Indonesia.
Both schemes are being fast-tracked by senior levels of the Aceh Government, as evidenced by a recent letter of support from the Governor of Aceh Province.
This letter requests Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry to rezone part of Gunung Leuser National Park, which comprises a critical element of the Leuser Ecosystem.
Re-zoning this area would allow the proposed mega-geothermal project to proceed. But this would set a damning precedent -- promoting large-scale projects in a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is already formally considered "In Danger".
Why is the government pushing these destructive plans within a World Heritage Site? Especially when far more sustainable locations -- such as the Seulawah and Takengon regions that are much closer to existing transmission networks and major population centers in Aceh -- are readily available?
Alarm Bells and Local Fury
Alarm bells are ringing. A number of local civil-society organizations have already written to the President of Indonesia, the Minister of Environment and Forestry, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and many others to oppose the proposed projects.
But given the money and power of those pressuring for the new projects, there is great worry that they will be pushed through regardless.
Beyond these protests, a civil lawsuit has been lodged by nine community groups (known as GeRAM) living in the Leuser area. Abu Kari, a local community leader and one of the GeRAM plaintiffs, tells ALERT his views:
“I’m furious. We call upon President Jokowi to intervene immediately. When the forests of the Leuser Ecosystem are opened and disturbed we suffer from fires, flooding and landslides. Too many people have already died from this, and now we see more foreign projects behind plans to destroy our homes, our families and our livelihoods.
We have had enough and we will fight this. If we lose the Leuser Ecosystem we lose our one chance at long-term economic development. We could even lose our lives, and those of our families and friends.
We beg President Jokowi to uphold environmental planning laws in Indonesia. We are in court now to fight for the Leuser Ecosystem and we invite the people of Aceh, Indonesia, and the world to join our fight.”
Thankfully, it appears the giant geothermal scheme in the Kappi region is coming under fire. The Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry and her colleagues have been ‘shooting down” the plans in the media and declaring their opposition to the Aceh Governor’s request to rezone Leuser.
But this is just one small battle in a tide of attempts to open up the Leuser Ecosystem and other critical wildlife habitats in northern Sumatra for development.
For instance, beyond the Kluet River hydroelectric project, which would imperil key habitats for orangutans and Sumatran elephants, additional plans for new electricity projects are being proposed for Gayo Lues District and several watersheds in East Aceh.
Vigilance is Vital
It is essential that northern Sumatra is monitored closely, to prevent these and other ill-advised schemes being approved in the near future.
Your voice does make a difference -- a big difference. Please add your name to GeRAM’s petition to the President of Indonesia to protect the Leuser Ecosystem. Do this for the sake of Sumatra’s unique biodiversity and the local people who depend on these areas for their livelihoods.
ALERT will do its best to keep you posted on new developments.