Government accused of sacrificing environment for the sake of investment

CNN Indonesia – January 19, 2021
President Widodo's motorcade drives through flood in Banjar regency, South Kalimantan – January 18, 2021 (Antara)

Jakarta – Natural disasters have hit several parts of Indonesia at the start of 2021. The series of distressing calamities began on Saturday January 9 when landslide claimed 32 lives in Sumedang, West Java.

Floods then inundated South Kalimantan on Tuesday January 12, with 10 regencies and cities impacted upon, 27,111 homes inundated and 112,000 people forced to seek shelter.

The tears had not yet dried in South Kalimantan when a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck West Sulawesi on Friday January 15. As of today, 88 people have died.

Tidal flooding and huge waves also buffeted the coast of Manado, North Sulawesi, on Sunday January 17 after a series of landslides the day before. An estimated 500 people have sought shelter.

Environmental activists and experts believe that these disasters partly come from nature, but are also in response to human activity. With regard to the floods in South Kalimantan, several environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) say that the floods in Kalimantan were cause by deforestation.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) notes that forest cover in Kalimantan has continued to decline from 33.2 million hectares in 2000 to 24.8 million hectares in 2017.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) the tidal flooding in Manado occurred because of strong winds. They also revealed that the coastal areas of Manado have lost their mangrove forests. There have also been reclamation projects near the flooded areas.

Development policy questioned

Development policy in the era of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is being questioned.

"The fact is, we see that the government is designing an ecological disaster. Not just an erroneous strategy, but consciously designing the disasters", Walhi essential food, water and ecosystem campaign manager Wahyu Perdana told CNN Indonesia on Tuesday January 19.

Perdana gave the example forests in Kalimantan which have been transformed into palm oil plantations and coal mines. He said that 61 percent of the land in Kalimantan has been allocated for mining concessions, plantations and forest plantation concessions.

In addition to this, the government and the House of Representatives (DPR) enacted the Job Creation Law (UU Ciptaker). Perdana highlighted several problems with the law, one of which is abolishing the obligations on maintaining minimum forest cover.

"It (a 30 percent minimum forest area) was measured based on the size of watershed areas. But now, this minimum limit has been abolished by the UU Ciptaker", he said.

Quoting data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry (KLHK), Kalimantan suffered the highest level of deforestation of any part of Indonesia between 2017 and 2018, loosing around 128.2 thousand hectares (net) of forest.

The biggest contributors to deforestation in the region are found in production forest (HP) areas or forests used for development, industry and export, covering some 25.3 thousand hectares.

This is followed by limited production forest (HPT) areas covering 11.9 thousand hectares, conservation production forests (HPK) covering 9.1 thousand hectares, conservation forests (HK) covering 4.6 thousand hectares and protected forests (HL) covering 3 thousand hectares.

Policy imbalance

Contacted separately, Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) forestry and the environment faculty head Professor Hariadi Kartodihardjo expressed a similar view. He says that there is an imbalance in how the government attends to investment and the environment.

Kartodihardjo says that the government facilitates the issuance of permits and passes laws for the sake of investment, but when it comes to natural disasters it gives the impression of only taking action after the event.

"When we look at areas where there have been landslides in West Java or (earthquakes) in West Sumatra, they appear to be geological, but no prior preparations are made like for investment. It really feels like there's an imbalance", Kartodihardjo told CNN Indonesia on Monday January 18.

Kartodihardjo is of the view that there are several things that the administration of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo must fix related to the environment. First, Widodo must upgrade the early detention technology which Indonesia already has.

Second, the government needs to create a reporting system of potential disasters which involve public participation. These reports could be compiled into big data which can be used for early detection.

Then, the government must control market demand that has the potential to spur producers so that they cause environmental damage. Finally, it needs to improve national policies so they are more pro-environment.

"The imbalance between the economy and the environment, cannot be ignored. Because if calculated over time, sacrificing the environmental also influence economic investment, roads are damaged, roads are destroyed", he said.(dhf/ain)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Rentetan Bencana dan Tudingan Salah Arah Kebijakan Negara".]