Published: Tuesday 15 October 1996

Large tracts of tropical peat forests will be cleared to make way for rice-fields, horticulture and plantations as part of a huge rice development project initia-ted by the government. The short-sighted and ill-planned project, aimed at boosting the government's popularity, totally ignores the grave consequences on environment and the local population. Work on the project is already underway.

Over the next three years, it will destroy a huge swathe of forest rich in biodiversity and also take away the livelihoods of indigenous Dayak communities. Experts believe that the project is doomed because a large part of the project area consists of highly acidic deep peat. Attempts to cultivate such lands in other countries have shown that they turn into black acidic wasteland. The peat swamps are home to a large variety of flora and fauna, many of which are endangered. The use of large amounts of nutrients for making the peat areas fertile will have an adverse effect on the rivers which provide fish and drinking water for people living in the surrounding areas.

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