The Leuser Ecosystem of Sumatra, Indonesia is one of the largest intact rainforests of South East Asia and is the last place on Earth where critically endangered elephants, tigers, rhinos and orangutans still coexist in the wild. It is now suffering extensive loss by the combined destructive forces of habitat destruction and exploitation. Oil palm plantations carpet the horizon and songbirds, primates and elephants are captured and beaten into captivity. This extraordinary region was once teeming with life, but it has fallen silent, and something must be done before it disappears altogether.
One of the Leuser Ecosystem’s greatest threats is the proposed construction of the 173m high Tampur megadam close to the small village of Lesten. Last year, I traveled to the proposed location of the dam; previously warned by locals that even the nearest village was very remote, I didn't expect to reach my destination easily. To my shock, I was met with slash-and-burn deforestation and a dirt road leading straight from the city to the riverside village of Pining. The dense forest that I expected from researched Google Earth images had been leveled in the short time since they were taken. Although the destruction was severe downstream, the long canoe journey upstream into the steep and mountainous region of the dam site showed there was still a substantial amount of pristine rainforest to be protected. There was still a battle to be won.
If this megadam project is to go forward, 4,000 hectares of this rainforest will be flooded, including Lesten village. It will invite catastrophic deforestation, extensive road construction, power line installation and human encroachment; all paving the way to further forest exploitation by agriculture, infrastructure and wildlife crime. The Tampur dam will displace 60 families, put 250,000 people downstream at risk of impoverishment and destructive flooding, and devastate some of the last lowland rainforests of South East Asia. Ultimately, it will destroy the Lesten river system, its biodiversity and all the neighbouring communities who rely on it for their livelihoods.
The people of Pining depend heavily on the food, water and irrigation the Lesten river provides, and they strongly oppose further corporate interference in the Leuser Ecosystem. They are committed to the prevention of logging and mining and have actively defended their rights to clean water and functional ecosystem services in court. The fate of Leuser now falls into the hands of the Indonesian public and we must hope and encourage them to pressure their local governments like the people of Pining. There is still time to stop the construction of the Tampur hydroelectric power plant; we must agitate and educate the public, influence local government and prevent further destruction to the irreplaceable Leuser Ecosystem.