The earthquake and tsunami of December 2004 devastated Aceh's society, economy, infrastructure, and institutions, especially on the province's west and north coasts. Along this narrow coastal belt, communities and agricultural lands lie directly adjacent to protected forests flanking spectacular mountain ranges. These forested areas include the Leuser Ecosystem in the south, and the Ulu Masen Forest Complex in the north. Even within Indonesia - a recognised mega-diversity country - the forests of Aceh are unique, comprising the largest remaining contiguous forested area (3.3 million ha) with the richest assemblage of biodiversity in South East Asia, including tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutans and the unique Rafflesia flower.
Fortunately many Acehnese are proud of their magnificent forests and wish to see them preserved. These forests must be conserved not only for their intrinsic and cultural values but also because they provide essential life-supporting ecological services that will sustain Aceh's recovery, development and future prosperity.
Life-supporting ecological services provided by Aceh's forests
1. Domestic, agricultural and industrial water supplies for millions of Acehnese.
2. Environmental security through natural disaster (flood, landslide, drought) mitigation.
3. Healthy river fisheries support local economies and provide a significant source of protein.
4. Rich biodiversity serving as a mega gene pool with potential applications for the socio-economic advancement of the region.
5. Local and global climate regulation.
6. Carbon sequestration
With the effective conservation and improved legal status of these forest areas, AFEP aims to create and sustain the largest biodiversity corridor in South East Asia.
Through the inception of the Aceh Forest and Environment Project (AFEP) both the Indonesian Government and the international community have acknowledged the high value of Aceh's forests. Recognising that poorly planned infrastructure development and the demand for reconstruction building materials has the potential to cause irreversable damage to these forests, it is the goal of AFEP to ensure that environmental concerns are integrated into Aceh's planning and reconstruction processes. The LIF received a grant from the Multi Donor Fund (MDF) totaling US$ 9.81 million in order to implement AFEP activities in the Leuser Ecosystem area. The project will run for a period of 4.5 years, ending in December 2010.
Primary objectives of AFEP
1. Mitigating the negative environmental impacts of reconstruction activities on Aceh's forests.
2. Improving the livelihoods of millions of Acehnese by ensuring that forest ecosystem services are maintained, supporting Aceh's future social and economic development.
3. Building the capacities of Government forest management institutions.
4. Developing the basis for a conservation economy through sustainable financing solutions.