How is palm oil linked to flooding in Indonesia?

In 2021, the north-east monsoon surge caused a rainy start of the year to Singapore and even flash flood warnings. Indonesia also found themselves in the same situation, with South Kalimantan experiencing the worst flood in 50 years.

Although the monsoon season has brought an increase in rainfall,  environmentalists have argued that other factors, such as rapid deforestation in the region, have contributed to the severe flooding. Deforestation of rainforests have made way for various crop plantations, such as oil palm plantations, mixed fruit plantations and rubber trees. The deforestation in the region can also be attributed to coal mining. Although there is no one clear culprit, analysis showed that all areas studied underwent massive deforestation between 2000 to 2016.

The reduced plant cover has decreased the carrying capacity of the land to hold water. This is because the roots of trees mitigates soil erosion by anchoring surrounding soil in place, while also improving percolation into the ground. Deforestation and soil erosion has led to silting in rivers, and a higher tendency of flooding.

The increase in river sedimentation can also give way to other impacts – it can impact the marine ecosystem, clog canals and affect drinking water quality. The advantages of forests is increasingly clear, ranging from carbon sequestration to land  and water management, which is why companies need to act on zero deforestation guidelines.