Deforestation cause floods in the Keerom Regency

Floods once again struck the Papuan Regency of Keerom in early February 2021 after heavy rainfalls had lasted for more than a day (see photo, source: Jubi). The water level reached up to 1.5 meters and caused damages to 1,155 houses and 4,500 hectares of agricultural land. About 4,400 residents, mainly from Arso and Arso Barat's districts, were reportedly displaced and sought temporary shelter in public facilities. The Arso area used to be a natural water reservoir but was closed with buildings and settlements over the past decades. The water originated from the three rivers Tami, Bewani and Skamto, which flow through the Keerom Regency.

 

Hydrologists explained that the floods have become more extreme over the past years due to the rampant deforestation in West Papua caused by illegal logging, the opening of oil palm plantations and other agricultural projects. The soil in these areas can no longer store the same amount of water as areas covered with natural rain forest. The experts predict that the Government can only gain control of the floods if the compliance with plantation and logging regulations are closely monitored and the approval of new plantation and logging permits is stopped for the time being. Moreover, natural water reservoir areas shall be re-naturalized, and settlements in these locations must be relocated.

Observers analyzing satellite imagery calculated an area of 1,488 hectares or more than 2,084 times the size of a football field, which have been cleared between March and May 2020 alone. NGOs have estimated that the most extensive deforestation between 2011 and 2019 occurred in Merauke, Boven Digoel, Keerom, Nabire and Fakfak. The NGOs counted 72 permits related to forest area release (PKH) in West Papua, issued by the Ministry of Forestry between 1992 and 2019, destroying 1,549,205 hectares of rain forest. A total of 1,461,577 hectares of this area were approved for companies operating in the agricultural sector. The activists say that 1,307,780 hectares of that area were converted to palm oil plantations.

Throughout the past 15 years, people in the Keerom Regency have repeatedly been affected by floods. In December 2013, the floods raised up to two meters leading to the displacement of 374 households.