The tremendous variations between the ecology and soils of Java and those of the outer islands exacerbate the country's deforestation problems. The imposition of an inappropriate farming system on the outer islands, a logging industry out of control and highly corrupt, and a callous disregard for the wishes of indigenous tribal group, all contribute to the present environmental and social degradation. Even the fertile soils of Java are not immune to these problems.
Indonesia has more than 8.6 million hectares of "critical land", areas that the government identifies as" Land which is generally unable to fulfil any of the normal soil functions, including water absorption or the production of even a mearge subsistence crop." A further 12 million hectares is classified as having "serious erosion" problems. These areas' problems are the direct result of forest destruction.
Java's 1 million hectare of critical land is spreading at a rate of 0.2 million each year. The island was already losing 770 million tons of nutrient-rich topsoil annually by late 1970s. Even the government admits that the soil erosion in Java's upper river catchments is so serious that crop yields are declining by 5% per annum.
Soil loss also results in the siltation of major rivers, ports, and dams. Java's second largest port at Surabaya is threatened with excessive siltation and, on the Barito River, port authorities claim that silt is being deposited faster than they can dredge it out. The projected life span of the Solorajo Dam in East Java has now been reduced from 100 to 33 years due to excessive siltation in its reservoir.
Flash flooding is another characteristic of critical lands. Since late 1970s, the Barito River has become increasingly prone to flooding with waters rising by 15 metres, regularly leaving tens of thousands homeless and destroying thousands of hectares of crops. The siltation in the port of Surabaya has also intensified the flooding problem. In late 1984, flooding swept away 137 villages leaving 39,000 people homeless. Indonesia has 69 watersheds in this condition.
The removal of forest cover has led to local changes in climate. Studies have shown that the monthly temperature ranges in an area before and after selective logging differ greatly. The original temperature range in the forest before logging is between 23 and 26 degree Celsius, whereas the temperature remains at a rather constant 40 degree Celsius after logging.
In 1982 and 1983, Kalimantan experienced the worst droughts for a century- the most extreme drought in the history. It is believed that the El Nino Southern Oscillation Event could be the very factor that worsens the dry conditions. A team from the University of Hamburg thinks that forest destruction may play a crucial role in affecting the turbidity of the South China Sea, which in turn increases the intensity of El Nino. This drought proved disastrous for farmers in East Kalimantan, as 80% of the rain-fed fields and 30% of the wet rice paddies yielded no crops. "Slash-and-burn" way of clearing forests induced massive forest fires that destroyed millions of hectares of forest.
The most detailed study on the Kalimantan fires carried out by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation states that:
The considerable decrease of foliage and related changes in the stand structure, increase of albedo, horizontal and vertical air movements, may produce significant and lasting effects on the regional climate.
Indonesia's geographical location and structure creates a mosaic of natural habitats, many of which is unknown to science. A large proportion of Indonesia's fauna and flora is endemic. Out of the near 1500 bird species, more than 370 are endemic. 20% of the 500 mammal species identified are unique to the archipelago. Just imagine the number of unknown species unique to the archipelago. They could easily add up to 50% of the total numbers. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WFN- previously the World Wildlife Fund) classifies 30 species as endangered and threatened, including tiger, cloud leopard, orang utan, and the Sumatra and Javanese rhinoceros; only 61 Java rhinos survive till today.
The potential value of the vast variety and species of plants to science is immense, as a WFN report from Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra revealed. In tens weeks of studies, Dr. Elliot and Dr. Brimacombe, staying with the Gayo tribe, recorded the use of more than 200 remedies from 171 plants. The area inhabited by the Gayo is under the threat from logging interests despite being located in a national park.
With such a diversity of species, there are few individual representatives of each plant or animal in any one area. As a result, the loss of species is proportional to the loss of individuals. Indonesia undoubtedly warrants special attention for the preservation of the world's genetic resources.
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