MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mining in Protected Areas Threatens Ecological Balance

Published by MAC on 2001-10-11


JATAM Press Release : October 11, 2001

Mining in Protected Areas Threatens Ecological Balance

The mining industry is pressuring the Indonesian government to change the status and designated function of protected forests to "production forests", all for the sake of investment. The mining industry is imposing a serious threat on Indonesia with their plans to open up protected forests to mining and therefore their plans must be rejected. The mining industry has imposed a threat in the form of an ultimatum on the Government, the Government must open up forests with protected forest status to mining or else watch foreign mining investment flee Indonesia. "Those proposing that protected forest areas be open up for mining only want to benefit from the current weak government position, which badly needs the investment. It's a cheap, false and dirty tactic," stated Chalid Muhammad, National Coordinator of the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network, JATAM.

Earlier this week, Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa stated that the Government was considering reviewing Forestry Law No 41/1999, which bans opencast mining in protected forests, in order to allow mining companies to continue their operations in areas that are now categorized as protected forests. As reported in the Jakarta Post (12/10/2001), the new law raised concern amongst mining investors because the new designated protected forest areas included some of the lands that the mining companies were currently exploring with 150 mining companies banned from fully exploiting their concession areas. However, this statement frequently stated by mining companies to the Government in their attempts to have the policy reversed is not entirely accurate. In fact, most of these areas were designated as special status areas or conservation areas long before the mining company had any concession rights to mine in the area. Other functions and features besides mining and minerals must be considered and prioritized as such; a concept the mining industry obviously does not grasp.

As an organization specializing in mining policy and practises in Indonesia, JATAM is opposed to any proposal that seeks to change the function of protected forests and conservation areas that would allow mining activities. Apart from violating the concept of protected areas, these proposals if allowed to proceed have the potential to create an emerging ecological disaster in Indonesia.

JATAM's position is strengthened by data, which shows that if the government agrees to change the status and function of protected areas into mining areas, an estimated 11.4 million hectares of protected area could be lost. This area consists of 8.68 million hectares of protected forest and 2.8 million hectares of conservation areas, which are, distributed over 85 regencies throughout Indonesia. These areas are inhabited by traditional indigenous communities, are rich in ecological diversity and act as environmental buffers. Many of these protected and conservation areas are home to endemic flora and fauna, which cannot be found elsewhere in the world.

Some of the cases that involve protected areas that mining companies are currently planning to mine include: Meru Betiri National Park, West Java by PT Jember Metal, Banyuwangi Mineral and PT Hakman; Lore Lindu National Park, Central Sulawesi by PT. Mandar Uli Minerals/Rio Tinto; Kerinci Sebelat National Park, Sumatra by PT. Barisan Tropikal Mining and Sari Agrindo Andalas; Aketajawe Nature Reserve and Lalobata protected forests, Central Maluku by Weda Bay Minerals; Meratus protected forest, South Kalimantan by PT. Pelsart Resources NL and Placer Dome; Wanggameti National Park by BHP; Nantu Nature Reserve by PT. Gorontalo Minerals; Taman Hutan Raya Poboya Paneki by PT. Citra Palu Minerals/ Rio Tinto; Buhubulu Island Tourism Park, by PT. Antam Tbk and Gag Island protected forest, Papua by Asia Pacific Nikel/BHP.

The Forestry Minister stated that the Government at the moment is looking at establishing a special team to resolve the problems faced by mining companies that have obtained mining licenses in protected forests prior to the enactment of the law. The team would be established in coordination with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the State Ministry for Environment. Prakosa said that the team would immediately start examining three big cases including PT Gag Nickel and PT Citra Palu Minerals.

One can only imagine what will happen if the Government complies with the mining companies' request. The Gag Island Protected Forest and Poboya Forest Park are examples of endangered areas. Small islands such as Gag, only 56km2 across and seismically active with high rainfall, certainly are susceptible to destructive industries like mining. The project map for BHP's Gag Island nickel project shows nearly half the island will be covered by mining operations, including the mine, plant, ore processor, tailings impoundment and sedimentation basin. These activities will severely disrupt the livelihoods of the Gag Island community, who depend on coral reef fishery, traditional cultivations and copra. The extent of mining and the plans to dump mine waste into the sea (Submarine Tailings Disposal - STD) will destroy the local ecosystem and the traditional economy of the community.

Similar problems will also arise if Rio Tinto's PT Citra Palu Minerals proceeds with its plan to mine gold in the Poboya Forest Park (Tahura Poboya). Tahura Poboya is a water catchment area for the Palu Valley and the community at Poboya. Mining in this area certainly constitutes a threat both to the community, which lives around Poboya, and to the water supply of Palu. The proposed mine is also very close to residential homes, only 6 kilometers from the city of Palu and 3 kilometers from the Mutiara Palu airport.

These plans for mining in protected areas must at once be halted. Ecological disaster will result if the few remaining areas, which still function as ecological support and are currently protected, are opened up of mining to the impacts. How many traditional communities will lose their livelihoods? How many ecosystems will be destroyed? What about the investment value that will be lost, as a result of losing our biological storehouses, which in Indonesia are sometimes referred to as the "green gold" of future generations?

The Government must cease the current method of selling mineral resources at low prices or soon there will be no more minerals left in the ground in Indonesia. A strategic and wise approach in mineral resource management is needed. A mineral management strategy must be rationally considered including the importance of local populations, environmental quality, the level of ecological threats on island ecosystems, the type and amount of mining materials that represent the real needs of the country and that which should be left as mineral reserves for future generations. These include among others, ceasing plans to mine in protected forest and conservation areas, including small islands. The Government and Indonesian community must begin to think in terms of mineral reserves with the perspective that not all locations containing mineral deposits must be mined. The sectoral approach, which has been followed by the government up until now, must be changed with an island based ecological and social approach.

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Information regarding Mining in Protected Forest and Conservation Areas in Indonesia, contact:
Mai JATAM (mai@jatam.org/ / +62-21-794 1559)

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Hasanuddin JATAM (hasanuddin@jatam.org/ ++62-21-794 1559 )JATAM (Jaringan Advokasi Tambang)
Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network
Jl. Mampang Prapatan II No. 30
RT 015 / RW 04 -- Jakarta 12790
INDONESIA
Tel. +62-(0)21-794 1559
Fax. +62-(0)21-791 81683
email: jatam@jatam.org
www.jatam.org

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