The Nation

SPECIAL REPORT

Land encroachers blamed

Clearing of jungle to grow rubber, oil palm aggravated or directly caused landslide that killed at least 40

Rampant encroachment on forestland to carve out rubber and oil palm plantations has been blamed for exacerbating if not directly causing the horrific landslide that killed at least 40 people during the off-season storm in the South last week.

"There are no trees to hold the ground and prevent landslides," Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti said yesterday.

Swaths of jungle were levelled to plant rubber trees, which could not keep the ground surface stable and slow down flashfloods, he said. The ministry last year surveyed forest encroachment and counted over 60 landslides in the North and South. Cutting trees down and planting rubber trees in designated natural preserves had caused landslides and flashfloods in these two regions, he said. "I instructed forestry officials to arrest people who encroached on forest reserves and destroy rubber trees that had been planted in forest areas," he said. Teeraphat Prayoonsit, deputy director-general of the Natural Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, said over 500,000 rai of rubber plantations were located in forest conservation areas especially in the northern and southern provinces. In the South, the para rubber plantations were concentrated on the Banthat Mountain range, Khao Poo Khao Ya National Park and some parts of Nakhon Si Thammarat. The agency would inspect the forest areas that were damaged by flashfloods and landslides after the floodwaters recede. Most landslides had occurred on low flatland found to be occupied by large rubber and oil palm plantations, he said. "We will strictly control the usage of land resources especially the cultivation of lowland as it would be at risk of disasters. We will also examine land ownership in these areas," he said. The department still needs the cooperation of villagers to reforest the destroyed areas, he said, adding that large plantations should not be allowed in forest conservation areas or reserved areas. Lertsin Raksaskulwong, director of the Mineral Resources Department's Environmental Geology and Geohazards Bureau, said there were several factors behind the landslides in the southern provinces during the torrential rains last week. Granite and limestone that are easily damaged during flashfloods are the dominant geologic setting. There is also a lot of high and steep mountains that have been classified as high risk for landslides. The massive forest encroachment and heavy rains during the past week were the main causes of landslides in the southern provinces, he added. Anond Snidvongs, director of the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency, said the flashfloods and landslides in the southern provinces were caused by extreme rainfall. Most of the mudslides had occurred on slopes, which smashed people's houses and property. Most of the roads under construction had also blocked the flow of rainwater, he added. Royol Chitradon, director of the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute, said most of the rubber trees planted in southern provinces do not have taproots to absorb water and hold the ground to prevent landslides and flashfloods. Jongrak Songrattanaphan, chief of Krabi's Natural Resources and Environment office, said the landslides in Krabi during past week were caused by the geologic setting and heavy downpours especially in Khaopranombenja National Park. In Krabi, about 1 million rai of forest areas were classified as forest reserves. About 500,000 rai of the forest areas were distributed to landless people under the Sor Por Kor agrarian reform scheme. Few forest reserves were entered by local people to plant rubber trees. Only 1,000 rai of forest reserves were encroached on this way a year, he added. Saran Jaisa-ard, chief of Nakhon Si Thammarat Protected Area Regional Office 5, said severe landslides, which occurred in four areas in the province, were caused by heavy rain and geological features. The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry recorded over 30 landslides and eight flashfloods in eight southern provinces from March 24-31. ////////////////


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