Saving Indonesian parks

Indonesia needs our help now to save its forests from disaster

You report that “Illegal logging ‘will ruin habitat of wild orang-utans” (12 June). Last year I led a study of the EC-funded Illegal Logging Response Centre at the Ministry of Forestry in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Centre was about to close after three years, despite having designed and piloted good new ways of tracking cases against illegal loggers through a notoriously corrupt and leaky prosecution system. I was astonished that the EC was closing down this successful initiative, but even more struck by the fact that the Indonesian government had started, for the first time, to take very seriously the rampant logging and deforestation of its national parks, especially those in Sumatra and Borneo that are homes to orang-utans.

The Indonesian authorities have been struggling frantically to protect these parks with extremely limited resources, using imaginative techniques such as microlight aircraft with global positioning systems and radios to guide enforcement teams to logging camps on the ground. These and other methods were being proved to work, but even as solutions were being found and morale was increasing, one by one the western aid agencies that should have been helping were withdrawing their assistance. This was a reaction to earlier events, in 1999-2003, when illegal logging seemed to be genuinely out of control, and before the Indonesian government had decided to act.

The slow-wittedness of donors and their inability to react quickly to new circumstances is now helping to create a catastrophic loss of biodiversity. What Indonesian park managers need right now is money for patrolling and enforcement in the field, money to plug gaps in their resources created when budgets take months to find their way into the forest areas far from Jakarta. What is needed, therefore, is emergency funding for the parks. Not necessarily a lot – €10,000 a year would make a huge difference to enforcement efforts in a typical park – but it needs to be reliable, and it must get there very, very soon. Otherwise, your paper’s obituary pages will shortly be filled with the names of extinct wild species, orang-utans among them.

Julian Caldecott, published in The Independent, 13 June 2007.