Will BHP Billiton's shameful Indonesian mining legacy finally be addressed?
(Don't hold your breath)
In 1860 a Dutch company secured "rights" to mine tin from two of the largest deposits of their kind, on the Indonesian tropical islands of Bangka and Belitung.
That company - Billiton - didn't withdraw from the islands until 1958, by which time it was exploiting some of Indonesia's most profitable bauxite reserves.
Finally, nine years ago, Billiton's assets were bought by BHP of Australia, soon making BHP Billiton the biggest mining conglomerate on earth.
The legacy of destruction on the tin islands is one of the worst to be found anywhere in South East Asia. However, mining is still continuing.
In January 2011, Indonesia's vice-president and the country's forestry minister finally promised to launch an "action plan", aimed at "slowing down the environmental destruction at the same time as providing livelihoods for residents".
Though whether this will end up as another "inaction" plan remains to be seen.
BHP Billiton's current major play in Indonesia is focussed on opening up a large coal deposit on the island of Kalimantan.
As yet, no-one seems to be demanding the company first compensate for enormously profiting from the exploitation of Bangka and Belitung over almost one hundred years.
[Comment by Nostromo Research, 29 January 2011].
Boediono Decries Bangka Tin Mines
By Camelia Pasandaran
24 January 2011
Pangkal Pinang. Appalled by the scale of destruction from tin mining in Bangka-Belitung, Vice President Boediono has called on residents of the province to shift from mining to plantations or fisheries.
"Bangka-Belitung, in the long run, cannot depend on tin alone," Boediono said during a visit to Pangkal Pinang, the provincial capital and largest city on Bangka Island, on Saturday. "Tin mining has its limitations. Maybe not now, but it will end soon."
On his flight from Palembang, South Sumatra, Boediono saw wide expanses of bare, formerly forested land, pockmarked by ponds. Much of the forest was felled illegally for tin exploration.
Tin has been a major source of income for the people of Bangka and Belitung islands for more than 200 years. The region is considered to be the largest tin producing area in Indonesia.
Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, who traveled with Boediono, said Bangka's environment was in critical condition. From 700,000 hectares of forest, around 500,000 hectares have been cut down for mining. Virgin forest now accounts for just 8 percent of the island's surface.
And when mines close down, Zulkifli said, they leave behind environmental problems. Most of the 100,000 hectares of disused mining land, he added, have not been rehabilitated.
"Mining is out of control, both on land and offshore," he said.
Boediono, after meeting with local government officials, said he would establish a team to address the issue. He said the team would draft a comprehensive strategic plan, covering all aspects from the economic and social impacts to legal enforcement.
"We will form a team to discuss the matter. The team will be led by the forestry minister, and will include the energy and mineral resources minister, the environment minister and a number of others," he said.
Boediono said the action plan would focus on slowing down the environmental destruction at the same time as providing livelihoods for residents.
Zulkifli said that there were several alternatives for the people of Bangka-Belitung to earn a living, such as fisheries, plantations and tourism.
As a result of the visit, Boediono said, the central government is now considering issuing a moratorium on new tin mines in the region.
Tin mining mitigation team established
24 January 2011
The Central Government will tackle the problem of environmental damage caused by tin mining in Bangka-Belitung islands. "There will be an agreed action plan to reduce and eliminate environmental damages," said Vice President Boediono on his flight back from a work visit to Pangkal Pinang to Jakarta last Saturday.
The action plan, said Boediono, will be implemented by a team established by the government, comprised of the ministers of Forestry, the Environment and Energy and Mineral Resources.
The team will also try to find an alternative solution for local residents who have been dependent on tin mining for their livelihood. Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said that the long-time exploitation of Bangka Belitung has caused the capacity to sustain environmentally decrease critically.
From all the regencies/cities, only one or two areas have not been very damaged by tin mining. Mining at sea and on land has been going on for years and became uncontrollable. The Forestry Ministry, said Zulkifli, has reclaimed tens of thousands of hectares of land from 100.000 hectares of mined land. "But even those land have been mined again, so the reclamation did not go as we expected," he said.