WorldThousands of residents evacuated after floods blamed on deforestation

Thousands of residents evacuated after floods blamed on deforestation

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Heavy flooding on Indonesia’s Sumatra island resulted in the evacuation of some 24,000 Indonesians and the death of two children, authorities said Tuesday, as conservationists point to deforestation. . Torrential rains have poured over the north of the Indonesian island since December 31, overflowing rivers and raising the water level up to three meters in residential areas, according to the local management agency disasters.

“We suffer from flooding at least 5 to 8 times a year in Pirak Timur,” says Muzakkir, a 33-year-old inhabitant of this town in Aceh province who, like many Indonesians, has only one name. “But today’s floods are among the worst,” he explains, interviewed by AFP. “The water keeps rising in my house, it gets to my chest” and “most of the houses in the area are flooded,” said Syarifuddin, a resident of Lhok Sukon in the same province.

Palm oil plantations in question

Authorities in the northern province of Aceh declared a state of emergency after the disaster which destroyed public buildings, infrastructure and agricultural areas.
In the agricultural province of Jambi, in central Sumatra, 24,000 people were also affected by floods which left no casualties. For the environmental organization Walhi, these floods are closely linked to the deforestation of upstream areas for palm oil plantations.

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“If we destroy the environment upstream but the authorities only take care of the downstream, that does not solve the problem” and the floods will continue to occur every year, notes the executive director of Walhi in Aceh, Ahmad Shalihin. Zulkifli, chief of the village of Meunasah Jok north of Aceh adds. “As the forests are gone up, the lower areas suffer a greater impact” in the event of flooding, says the official who also accuses the illegal logging.

Exceptional floods

Neighboring Malaysia is also struggling to recover from the exceptional floods that hit the country last month causing around 50 deaths. Some 13,000 people remain in shelters after mass evacuations of some 70,000 people at the end of 2021 in several states of the country of Southeast Asia, including that of Selangor which surrounds the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

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Landslides and floods are common in Indonesia and Malaysia during the rainy season. These disasters are often favored by deforestation and a lack of risk prevention, according to conservationists. In April 2021, more than 200 people were killed in groups of islands in the eastern Indonesian archipelago and in East Timor, which were devastated by Cyclone Seroja.

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