In Indonesia, deforestation is intensifying disasters from severe weather and climate change

Homes damaged by a flash flood sit in Pesisir Selatan, West Sumatra, Indonesia, March 13, 2024. In Indonesia, environmental groups continue to point to deforestation and environmental degradation worsening the effects of natural disasters such as floods, landslides, drought and forest fires. (AP)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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In Indonesia, deforestation is intensifying disasters from severe weather and climate change

  • Experts warn that it’s unlikely deforestation in Indonesia will stop anytime soon as the government continues to move forward with new mining and infrastructure projects

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Roads turned to murky brown rivers, homes were swept away by strong currents and bodies were pulled from mud during deadly flash floods and landslides after torrential rains hit West Sumatra in early March, marking one of the latest deadly natural disasters in Indonesia.
Government officials blamed the floods on heavy rainfall, but environmental groups have cited the disaster as the latest example of deforestation and environmental degradation intensifying the effects of severe weather across Indonesia.
“This disaster occurred not only because of extreme weather factors, but because of the ecological crisis,” Indonesian environmental rights group Indonesian Forum for the Environment wrote in a statement. “If the environment continues to be ignored, then we will continue to reap ecological disasters.”
A vast tropical archipelago stretching across the equator, Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, with a variety of endangered wildlife and plants, including orangutans, elephants, giant and blooming forest flowers. Some live nowhere else.
For generations the forests have also provided livelihoods, food, and medicine while playing a central role in cultural practices for millions of Indigenous residents in Indonesia.
Since 1950, more than 74 million hectares (285,715 square miles) of Indonesian rainforest — an area twice the size of Germany — have been logged, burned or degraded for development of palm oil, paper and rubber plantations, mining and other commodities according to Global Forest Watch.
Indonesia is the biggest producer of palm oil, one of the largest exporters of coal and a top producer of pulp for paper. It also exports oil and gas, rubber, tin and other resources. And it also has the world’s largest reserves of nickel — a critical material for electric vehicles, solar panels and other goods needed for the green energy transition.
Indonesia has consistently ranked as one of the largest global emitters of plant-warming greenhouse gases, with its emissions stemming from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and peatland fires, according to the Global Carbon Project.
It’s also highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, including extreme events such as floods and droughts, long-term changes from sea level rise, shifts in rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures, according to the World Bank. In recent decades the country has already seen the effects of climate change: More intense rains, landslides and floods during rainy season, and more fires during a longer dry season.
But forests can help play a vital role in reducing the impact of some extreme weather events, said Aida Greenbury, a sustainability expert focusing on Indonesia.
Flooding can be slowed by trees and vegetation soaking up rainwater and reducing erosion. In dry season, forests release moisture that helps mitigate the effects of droughts, including fires.
But when forests diminish, those benefits do as well.
A 2017 study reported that forest conversion and deforestation expose bare soil to rainfall, causing soil erosion. Frequent harvesting activities — such as done on palm oil plantations — and the removal of ground vegetation leads to further soil compaction, causing rain to run off the surface instead of entering groundwater reservoirs. Downstream erosion also increases sediment in rivers, making rivers shallower and increasing flood risks, according to the research.
After the deadly floods in Sumatra in early March, West Sumatra Gov. Mahyeldi Ansharullah said there were strong indications of illegal logging around locations affected by floods and landslides. That, coupled with extreme rainfall, inadequate drainage systems and improper housing development contributed to the disaster, he said.
Experts and environmental activists have pointed to deforestation worsening disasters in other regions of Indonesia as well: In 2021 environmental activists partially blamed deadly floods in Kalimantan on environmental degradation caused by large-scale mining and palm oil operations. In Papua, deforestation was partially blamed for floods and landslides that killed over a hundred people in 2019.
There have been some signs of progress: In 2018 Indonesian President Joko Widodo put a three-year freeze on new permits for palm oil plantations. And the rate of deforestation slowed between 2021-2022, according to government data.
But experts warn that it’s unlikely deforestation in Indonesia will stop anytime soon as the government continues to move forward with new mining and infrastructure projects such as new nickel smelters and cement factories.
“A lot of land use and land-based investment permits have already been given to businesses, and a lot of these areas are already prone to disasters,” said Arie Rompas, an Indonesia-based forestry expert at Greenpeace.
President-elect Prabowo Subianto, who is scheduled to take office in October, has promised to continue Widodo’s policy of development, include large-scale food estates, mining and other infrastructure development that are all linked to deforestation.
Environmental watchdogs also warn that environmental protections in Indonesia are weakening, including the passing of the controversial Omnibus Law, which eliminated an article of the Forestry Law regarding the minimum area of forest that must be maintained at development projects.
“The removal of that article makes us very worried (about deforestation) for the years to come,” said Rompas.
While experts and activists recognize that development is essential for Indonesia’s economy to continue to go, they argue that it should be done in a way that considers the environment and incorporates better land planning.
“We can’t continue down the same path we’ve been on,” said sustainability expert Greenbury. “We need to make sure that the soil, the land in the forest doesn’t become extinct.”


Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, three killed, regional government says

Screen capture of a video allegedly taken at a shooting at a synagogue in Derbent, in Russia’s Dagestan region, June 23, 2024.
Updated 24 min 58 sec ago
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Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, three killed, regional government says

  • Thirteen people were wounded in the attacks, the interior ministry was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies

MOSCOW: Gunmen opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan on Sunday and at least three people, including two police officers were killed, the region’s interior ministry said.
Thirteen people were wounded in the attacks, the interior ministry was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
The reports said one officer and a priest were killed when shots were fired at a synagogue and a church in Derbent, home to an ancient Jewish community in the South Caucasus and a UNESCO world heritage site.
“Unidentified people fired at a synagogue and a church with automatic weapons,” the interior ministry said. “One police officer was killed and one injured.”
The synagogue was on fire after the attack, Russian news agencies said.
The attackers then fled in a car.
Another police officer was killed in an exchange of shots at a police post in Makhachkala, about 125 km (75 miles) to the north along the Caspian Sea coast and the main city in Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.
Fighting was later reported in the streets of Makhachkala. 


UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

Updated 23 June 2024
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UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

  • The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.


Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Updated 23 June 2024
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Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”


Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Updated 23 June 2024
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Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

LONDON: The UK interior minister has defended a parliamentary aide who called the government plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda “crap,” in a leaked audio revealed by the BBC Sunday.
A controversial law by the Conservative government allowing irregular migrants arriving in the UK to be deported to Rwanda was finally passed in April, after months of parliamentary wrangling.
But in the recording James Sunderland, a parliamentary aide and Conservative party candidate, was heard saying: “the policy is crap, ok? It’s crap.”
“But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy,” he went on to say, speaking at a Youth Conservatives conference in April.
“There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off it will send such a shockwave across the Channel,” Sunderland clarified.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was “surprised,” when asked about the audio, before saying Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive statement to grab the attention.”
Cleverly told Sky News on Sunday that his aide Sunderland “is completely supportive of the deterrent effect.”
Sunderland told the BBC he was “disappointed” to have been recorded at a private event, and said although the policy is “not the be all and end all,” it is “part of a wider response.”
No flights deporting asylum seekers have actually taken off yet for the African country, due to lengthy legal challenges and with parliament dissolved ahead of a looming general election on July 4.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the policy would only come into effect after the election, if he was re-elected.
The opposition Labour party — which looks poised to replace the Conservatives — has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan.
The government cleared a law allowing some asylum seekers to be deported in April, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling that said sending migrants to Rwanda in this way would be illegal because it “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment.”
Supporters of the Rwanda policy say it will deter tens of thousands of annual cross-Channel arrivals by small boats, and insist the policy is already having an impact.
More than 12,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel to Britain on small boats this year, according to government data.


Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Updated 23 June 2024
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Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.