West Kalimantan, deforestation and intensive cultivation lead to flood emergency
by Mathias Hariyadi

A Capuchin friar leads a group of volunteers in distributing aid to the hardest-hit areas of the Kapuas Hulu district. The rains, fed by the Niña, show no sign of letting up. Among the causes of the floods is the progressive deforestation in the area over the last decade. Entire forests have been uprooted to make room for palm plantations. 

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In many areas of the diocese of Sintang, in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, the flood emergency shows no sign of stopping, with many areas still submerged by one or two meters of water.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Capuchin friar Stephanus Paiman, of the provincial order of Pontianak and active in the most affected area, underlines that the areas of greatest concern are concentrated "in the district of Kapuas Hulu", especially "Silat Hulu and Pasar Lanjak".

The friar is at the head of a group of volunteers, Pontianak's Humanitarian Volunteer Forum (Frkp), which is distinguishing itself in these days in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the most damaged population lacking basic means of subsistence. 

Using motorized canoes, Frkp teams have reached the most remote areas and distributed what was previously collected among donors in Pontianak, in collaboration with the Catholic University Widya Dharma (Ukdw), to be destined to the diocese of Sanggau.

"In Putussibau and Kapuas Hulu heavy rains are still falling," recounts Brother Paiman, which began last night and "continued through to early morning today"; this could lead to "a further rise in the waters". 

The emergency began last October 21 and after more than a month the situation remains an emergency and some areas are flooded. Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo reported the loss of much of the "water catchment area" in Sintang, while announcing a massive reforestation effort after years of deforestation. 

Nicodemus Ale, executive director of Walhi (one of the most important environmental associations in the country) in West Kalimantan, reports several concauses behind the emergency: the first is that the city of Sintang is at the confluence of four major rivers - Melawi, Kapuas, Kayan and Ketungan - which tend to overflow as rainfall increases; La Niña,  has exacerbated the intensity of rainfall; finally, the massive campaign of deforestation that has affected the province of West Kalimantan in the last decade, mainly linked to "the conversion of portions of forest to palm plantations (4.4 million hectares), mining projects (500 hectares) or industrial (600 hectares)". 

The November floods in Sintang diocese represent the region's worst natural disaster in 40 years. The flooding emergency, however, also affected the areas of Palangka Raya, and other towns in the province of Central Kalimantan; previously, record rainfall had caused warnings and damage also in Samarinda, capital of the province of East Kalimantan and Banjarmasin, in South Kalimantan.