Activists will return awards to protest deforestation

Three environmentalists in North Sumatra are going to give up their awards in protest against the national government, which they claim has persistently neglected widespread illegal logging that is causing severe damage to the environment around Lake Toba.

They plan to return a number of awards they received from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as a show of their disappointment toward the government, which they allege does not care about environmental degradation around the lake.

The environmentalists planning to return the awards are Marandus Sirait, recipient of the 2005 Kalpataru Award in the environmental pioneer category; Hasoloan Manik, recipient of the 2010 Kalpataru Award in the environmental savior category; and Wilmar E. Simanjorang, recipient of the Wana Lestari prize and the 2011 Lake Toba Award. 

They also went to the North Sumatra gubernatorial office in Medan on Friday and surrendered a number of certificates of appreciation they had received from the provincial administration to provincial secretary Nurdin Lubis.

The environmentalists said they would directly hand over their Kalpataru and Wana Lestari awards — which they had been given by the Office of the State Minister of the Environment — in Jakarta after the Idul Fitri holiday.

“We do this as a symbol of our disappointment in the government, which has failed to take action against rampant deforestation in Lake Toba,” Marandus said, after handing over several certificates of appreciation to the provincial administration at the gubernatorial office. 

Marandus said the number of awards they received would not mean anything if the government overlooked the issue. According to him, the forests around Lake Toba were currently in critical condition, as they had been further plundered by irresponsible parties.

“We’d rather not get the awards, if it means the Lake Toba area remains intact,” said Marandus. 

Wilmar said deforestation around Lake Toba was now rampant, and thus causing anxiety among local residents. He added that if deforestation continued unchecked, disasters, such as flash floods and drought, would be imminent.

“If deforestation continues, the Tele region will become a desert. Rivers flowing into Lake Toba would also further deplete as water sources vanish,” said Wilmar, former acting Samosir regent.

According to Wilmar, they have repeatedly complained about deforestation to the provincial administration, central government and law enforcers, but to no avail, as illegal logging around the Lake Toba area continues.

“There seems to be a conspiracy behind this,” Wilmar asserted.

Provincial secretary Nurdin Lubis said the provincial administration would follow up with the concern expressed by the environmentalists by coordinating with a number of regencies and mayoralties and take the necessary steps against the widespread forest conversion occurring in the Lake Toba area.

“The Lake Toba area encompasses seven regencies and mayoralties. That’s why we will coordinate with them in the near future to overcome the issue,” said Nurdin.

Lake Toba is the world’s largest volcanic lake, covering 1,707 square kilometers. It was formed about 70,000 years ago after a massive volcanic eruption. 

With a depth of about 450 meters, it is one of the earth’s deepest lakes. Samosir Island, considered sacred by locals, lies in the middle of the lake and has more than 100,000 inhabitants,

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