Sumatra mill destroying environment, say activists

JAKARTA • Green groups said yesterday that one of the world's biggest pulp mills, which started production on Indonesia's Sumatra island last month, was causing enormous environmental damage.

The groups said the US$3 billion (S$4.3 billion) mill belonging to industry giant Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) was sourcing raw materials mostly from trees grown on drained peatlands, where haze-belching fires occur every year.

The facility produces a raw material that can later be made into paper.

Ms Woro Supartinah, whose non-governmental organisation was among the groups, called on the government to "promote a broader set of interests", rather than just helping big firms reap profits.

"Restoring peatlands will generate economic growth and environmental security over the long term," she said.

The groups included Wetlands International, Eyes on the Forest and Rainforest Action Network.

APP said it aims to responsibly raise production capacity. In a statement, it said its pulpwood suppliers were bound by its conservation policies, which include committing to "no new development on peatland since February 2013, as well as the implementation of responsible peatland best management practice".

Vast areas of peatland, which store carbon, have been drained in recent years by using networks of canals to convert them into plantations for trees to produce pulp and palm oil.

The drained peatlands emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and the arid tracts of land created are vulnerable to going up in flames.

Huge fires erupt on and around plantation land every year in Sumatra, much of them in peat.

The fires in 2015 were among the worst on record and cloaked South-east Asia in toxic haze for weeks, causing many to fall ill, schools to close and flights to be cancelled.

About three-quarters of the plantations supplying APP's mill are on peatlands, said the green groups.

The government has stepped up efforts to protect the peatlands, especially after the 2015 fires, which according to the World Bank caused US$16 billion in losses for the archipelago's economy.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2017, with the headline 'Sumatra mill destroying environment, say activists'. Subscribe