MAC: Mines and Communities

Small Indonesian islands may disappear ‘due to mining’

Published by MAC on 2011-03-22
Source: Jakarta Post

As the world's largest archipelago, Indonesia is uniquely vulnerable to both "natural" and "unnatural" forces of destruction striking its smaller islands - not least from miners.

A community leader from Obi Island, in North Maluku province, now says that his own peoples' land might disappear within 10 years, if nickel extraction continues at its present rate.

Obi is not alone in facing such a dire prospect.

As we reported recently, the Indonesian government has only just started to address many decades of reckless tin mining on the islands of Banka & Beltitung. See:

Will BHP Billiton's shameful Indonesian mining legacy finally be addressed? 

And, if a proposal to dig for gold and copper on Lembata is revived, it would allegedly destroy two thirds of the island. See: Indonesia: the madness or mendacity of Merukh?

Small islands at risk of disappearing ‘due to mining'

The Jakarta Post

10 March 2011

A community leader on Obi Island in North Maluku says the government should pay more attention to the environmental damage exacerbated by mining on small islands, or else the islands might disappear.

Jepri Daeng, one of 17,000 people who reside on Obi Island in South Halmahera, said his island was among the islands that could disappear.

Obi Island might vanish within 10 years, not 30 as widely believed by residents, if the government makes no serious effort to put an end to the excessive mining occurring on the island, Jepri said.

Obi is one of seven small islands in Indonesia that are at risk of disappearing because of mining activities, Jatam said. The other six are Bangka and Belitung Islands, Gag Island in Papua, Kei Island and Wetar Island in Maluku, Nusa Penida in Bali and Solor Island in East Nusa Tenggara, according to Jatam.

Obi is home to five mining companies: PT Aneka Tambang, PT Gane Permai Sentosa, PT Trimega Persada, PT Gane Tambang Sentosa and PT Obi Prima Nikel. All are mining on the tiny island, which is 3,111 square meters. They take at least a million tons of soil containing nickel from Obi every month and send it abroad for further processing.

Jepri said residents feared the island would disappear considering the amount of soil that was taken every month. The threat of rising sea levels due to climate change and environmental degradation of the island's lake has increased their fears. Jepri said Obi might be submerged by the ocean or by flash flooding from a lake near the mining activities.

Tougher regulations regarding excessive mining by companies operating on small islands is urgently required to prevent them from disappearing, he said.

Yohanes Kristo Tara, a resident of Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara, said the government should develop agriculture, fisheries and tourism, activities that have been proven to bring prosperity to local communities on small islands, instead of issuing mining licenses.

Studies show that islands in the Lesser Sundas, of which East Nusa Tenggara is a part, are facing a rapid increase in problems.

"Excessive mining has brought social and ecological crises, turning our small islands into a desert very quickly," he said.

East Nusa Tenggara's small islands have several mining industries, but those industries bring no significant economic advantages to local residents, Yohanes said.

East Nusa Tenggara province has four large islands, Alor, Flores, Sumba and Timor, out of its 566 islands.

According to the local government, 307 permits for mining on smaller islands have been issued by local administrations for companies from China, Japan and Korea. Most of the permits are for manganese extraction.

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