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Mega-project under fire

The European Parliament has joined environmental organisations and scientists in calling on Indonesia to halt President Suharto’s disastrous project to convert over a million hectares of peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan into rice-lands. As thousands more transmigrants are sent to the site, more news is emerging about the impact of the project on surrounding communities.

In its April resolution the European Parliament urges the Indonesian Government to "stop activities in connection with the Mega-rice project on Kalimantan..." noting that:

despite the adverse recommendations of an environmental impact assessment study, the Indonesian government went ahead with implementation of the project without concrete action to prevent wholesale logging and environmental destruction by powerful and politically well connected timber companies.

The resolution also calls upon the European Commission and Council to support the Indonesian Government in developing ernative projects, mentioning in particular setting up an ‘ecological planning unit' in Central Kalimantan and organising a conference on the project (Resolution on Forest Fires in Latin America d South-East Asia, 2/4/98)

The resolution increases the pressure on Jakarta to stop the project and limit the scale of the catastrophe. Much damage already been done since the project was started two years ago. Forests have been cut, drainage canals dug, and sites cleared for transmigration. Towards the end of last year two and a half thousand families had been settled on the sites, with a further ten thousand more due by the end of the year (see DTE 35). In January, the then transmigration minister announced that a further ten thousand families or 50,000 people would be brought in in the next two months. (Media 7/1/98) It is not known how far these gets have been fulfilled.

The devastating forest fires, many of which were started by contractors clearing land for resettlement sites, along with water shortages and smoke-filled skies, made for miserable conditions for the new arrivals. At the same time, the original owners of the land, indigenous Dayak communities, have lost their lands, resources and livelihoods to a project that scientists believe is doomed to fail. (See DTE 29/30, 31 and 35 for more background).

Polluted water

Tens of thousands of families living along the Kapuas, Kahayan and Barito rivers in Central Kalimantan are using contaminated water from the mega-project upstream. According to a February report in an Indonesian newspaper the water has high levels of mineral compounds containing iron and sulphur and is polluted by pesticides used on the project. [It is probable the iron and suphur have silted from the oxidation of the peat -- a consequence of deforestation and the fires.] The local population are suffering stomach-aches, headaches and vomiting. The people say they have carried on using the river water as there are no alternative clean supplies nearby. An official working for the mega-project told the daily Kompas that the mineral compounds had to be flushed out of the soil in the project areas in order to reduce acidity and increase fertility for agriculture. He said the process would take at least five years. (Kompas 26/2/98) How the populations living downstream from the project are supposed to cope with thtis prolonged contamination appears to have been ignored.

AppeaI to the IMF

NGOs concerned about the mega-project have urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to include the cancellation of the project in its negotiations with the Indonesian Government over financial crisis. A letter signed by twenty seven international NGOs, including Down to Earth, was sent to the head of the IMF, Michel Camdessus in March. The letter argued that failing to secure the cancellation of the project "may seriously hamper the financial sustainability of the solutions the IMF is proposing to Indonesia." It also urged the IMF to discuss with the Indonesian Government an alternative development programme including the rehabilitation of the damaged zones in Central Kalimantan. (Letter Michel Camdessus, 2/3/98 from SKEPHI and others.)

Link here for Background information on Mega-Rice Project

Reprinted with permission form Down to Earth (International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia) no.37, May 1998.

Down to Earth, 59 Athenlay Rd., London SE15 3EN, UK.

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