Indonesia probes illegal logging role in Papua floods

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian officials and forestry experts are to investigate claims that illegal logging contributed to floods that have killed at least 145 people, the Forestry Ministry said on Monday.

This comes ahead of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s visit to the flood-wreaked district in Papau province this week. Recent floods have left more than 700 injured and 123 missing and flattened houses and civil infrastructure in Wasior district, in the western half of Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province. Over 4,300 people have been left homeless.

“We want to know the causes of the disaster and we want to know whether illegal logging was the cause or not,” said Masyhud, a Forestry Ministry spokesman, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name.

Indonesia has struggled to curb widespread illegal logging of its forests, which exacerbates damage caused by flooding.

Conservationist group Greenomics said in a statement that a logging ‘mafia’ was partly to blame for the floods.

Forests are cleared in resource-rich Papua to make way for mines, plantations or local infrastructure but its remoteness, vastness and system of semi-autonomous government have made monitoring difficult.

Krystof Obidzinski, a scientist at the West Java-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said that between 2000 and 2008, 2300 hectares (5,683 acres) of forested land were logged in the flood-affected district and 26,800 hectares of primary forest were thinned or disturbed to make way for housing, small-scale agriculture and infrastructure.

“Most of the deforestation has occurred outside of the logging concessions,” he said.

Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu and Sunanda Creagh