Irreplaceable Protected Forest Under Threat as Aceh Parliament Passes Controversial Spatial Plan

The Leuser Ecosystem (photo by Paul Hilton)
The Leuser Ecosystem (photo by Paul Hilton)

The Aceh Parliament dismayed local community members, NGOs and scientists around the world by recently passing a highly controversial new land use plan. If approved by Indonesia’s Central Government later this month, the plan will severely threaten Aceh’s last remaining lowland forests  – home of the orangutan – and the life support this area provides to millions of Acehnese people.

Currently under review by Indonesia’s Central Government, the spatial plan will open up huge areas of Aceh’s ecologically sensitive forests to mining, timber and plantation concessions.

Dr. Ian Singleton, of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, warned, “If the Indonesian Central Government approves Aceh’s spatial plan, the Sumatran elephant, tiger, rhino and orangutan will be pushed to extinction. There is no question that we will see them all disappear in less than a lifetime unless this spatial plan is rejected.”

Aceh’s people have long recognised the critical ecological services their forests provide. Local communities rely on these forest ecosystems for clean water for downstream irrigation, agriculture and food production, as well as mitigation of environmental disasters.

Mr. Muhammad Nur, Director of WALHI Aceh, representing 35 Acehnese environmental NGOs, has warned the deforestation that will result from the spatial plan will lead to more severe impacts from often catastrophic disasters such as flash floods and landslides.

“In the last six years Aceh has experienced more than 1,000 major floods and close to 300 landslides. This plan will significantly increase both the frequency and severity of such disasters, leading to many more human lives being lost and immeasurable impacts on local livelihoods through destruction of crops and infrastructure.”

Aceh’s unique biodiversity will also face devastating impacts. Indeed, the plan entirely disregards the existence of the Leuser Ecosystem, one of the most important conservation areas in the world, despite the 2.2 million hectares (of its total 2.6 million ha) that lie within Aceh having protected legal status under National Law on Aceh Governance (11/2006), as well as designation as a National Strategic Area for its Environmental Protection Function, under Indonesia’s National Spatial Planning law (26/2007 juncto Government Regulation 26/2008).

 Acehnese environmental lawyer, Kamaruddin, declared, “the spatial plan clearly breaches Aceh Governance law no 11/2006. This law obligates Aceh’s Government to protect the Leuser Ecosystem and the fact that the current spatial plan doesn’t even acknowledge its existence opens up all sorts of legal ramifications if it is signed into law.”

Ironically, on the same day that Aceh’s Parliament passed the spatial plan, The Jakarta Post (27/12/2013) published an Open Letter written by a consortium of scientists and economists recommending Aceh’s Governor, Dr Zaini Abdullah, nominate the Leuser Ecosystem as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This followed from an article published in the international journal Science (15/11/2013) listing the Leuser Ecosystem as one of the “world’s most irreplaceable protected areas” (Le Saout et al. 2013, p. 803).

“Nationally and internationally, the Leuser Ecosystem plays a critical role in carbon storage and climate regulation”, the Open Letter stated. “Aceh is rightly proud of these ecological services that have been valued at over $US 400 million per year.”

 If carried out, the new plan will also undermine the effectiveness of a $1 billion REDD deal between the governments of Indonesia and Norway, aimed at reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation.

Efendi Isma of KPHA (Coalition of Concern for Aceh’s Forests) stated, “We are calling on the Indonesian Central Government to reject the current Aceh spatial plan. We urge the Aceh Government to revise the plan to account for the Leuser Ecosystem’s legally protected status, and to acknowledge the customary management rights of local communities and the Mukims (read: a uniquely Acehnese traditional institution). Leuser’s critically important forests must remain intact so that the immeasurable environmental services and benefits they provide can continue to support the well-being and livelihoods of Aceh’s people over the long term.”


  1. Tom – Thanks for the article. What is the latest status on the Aceh spatial plan.

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