MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Backgrounder on Elang/Dodo by JATAM and WALHI

Published by MAC on 2006-03-20

Backgrounder on Elang/Dodo by JATAM and WALHI

Jakarta, Indonesia

20th March 2006

NEWMONT SEEKING TO DESTROY THE ELANG DODO PROTECED FORESTS

Newmont Nusa Tenggara Ltd. is operating on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa with a Generation IV Contract of Work signed with the government of Indonesia in 1986. Newmont’s original concession area covered three fourths of the Sumbawa Island. The company’s current concession area has been reduced to 96,400 hectares and is divided into six blocks. One of these blocks is located on Lombok Island while the other five blocks are found on the island of Sumbawa. One of the five blocks on Sumbawa is the Elang block, which is 25,938 hectares in area and covers the Dodo and Rini forest area.

Newmont mining in the Sumbawa area has adversely affected the lives of the Tongo Sejorong people and those of surrounding areas. Many people in Sumbawa suffer from obscene poverty. Local communities affected by the mining operations are met with intimidation when they attempt to question or seek redress for lost rights. A divided community has replaced a once peaceful and harmonious community. They feel their culture has been degraded.

Now, Newmont wants to further its exploitation into the Elang/Dodo Rinti forests, an area with protected forest status. Problems have already arisen in the two years of exploration in the area. Mining forays in this area have been met with community resistance as illustrated by the following actions:

1. September 2003 -Six village heads from the Ropang Regency in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) threatened to boycott the expansion of the mining area if Newmont Nusa Tenggara did not accommodate the people’s demands. These six villages are Lantung Ai Mual, Lantung Sepukur, Ropang, Lebin, Labangkar, and Lawin. Thousands of villagers from the six villages were prepared to join the boycott.
2. October 2005 –Ropang villagers, who are mainly farmers, concerned about the devastating impact that the mining operations would have on their water supply, resorted to taking several Newmont employees as hostages.
3. November 2005 –Newmont’s exploration camp at Elang/Dodo was occupied by community members protesting Newmont’s failure to keep its promises to the community.
4. March 2006 - Early this month, the people of Ropang, Moyo Hulu, and Moyo Hilir blockaded a Newmont Nusa Tenggara’s mining road. Newmont’s vehicles were held in protest of the company’s absence from a hearing with the Regional Parliament in the Sumbawa District. Mining contractors mobilized an opposing mass as they were worried that their business would be disturbed by the people’s blockade.1

Since March 18, 2006, citizens have returned to occupying Newmont’s exploration area in Elang-Dodo. They will continue the action until Newmont withdraws all of its machines and cancels its exploration in Dodo Rinti. Thousands of villagers from Ropang Village joined the action. They were supported by people from surrounding villages such as Lebangkar, Lantung, Moyo Hilir and Moyo Hulu. They made it clear that they would not leave the area until Newmont declared its withdrawal from Dodo Rinti.

Newmont’s Problems in Dodo Rinti

1. Unfair Land Acquisition

The Labangkar (other village adjacent to Ropang) citizens were forced to sell their land at a cheap price, far below its current value. Newmont paid only 60 million Rupiah for one hectare or 6 thousand Rupiah (0.50 USD) per square metre. Similar tactics were used at Batu Hijau where negotiations with the community were done after their land had been taken away.

Not only did Newmont determine the land price unilaterally, community members said they felt intimidated during the land process. The Sumbawa Regent went so far as to make threats against those who did not want to sell their land.2

2. The Loss of Livelihoods from the Forest

The Newmont Nusa Tenggara mining operations in Dodo-Rinti cover an area where the Ropang people used to make their living. The majority of people in the area lives an agrarian lifestyle and depend on forest products like honey and rattan for their income. The citizens have lost access to these forests and the forest products that they depend on for their livelihoods. The Tongo people experienced the same fate when Newmont Nusa Tenggara began mining in Batu Hijau. They lost access to the forest and were forced to give up their livelihood of gathering forest products.

Many local people in the Dodo-Rinti area reject mining activities because of the impact on water levels. They fear a drought will occur, similar to the drought that happened in the Batu Hijau area after mining began there. The farming community fear that their fertile crops will be degraded with mining, and rice, vegetables and fruits will become difficult to grow.

3. Protected Forests and Sacred Land

At least 5100 hectares of Newmont’s exploration area in Dodo and 7539 hectares in Rinti are classified by the Indonesian government as protected forests.3 Destruction caused by exploration drilling in the last two years is feared to impact water supply in the local area. According to local people, the water supply in the Ropang area used to be abundant. Now, the people are worry they are facing a water crisis that will wreak havoc on their crops.

Dodo Rinti is also a sacred area for the people of Ropang. Vice Chairperson of Ropang Village, Asraruddin Rahmat, stated that people are unwilling to hand over the area to be destroyed for mining because it is the community’s ancestral lands.4

Long before Indonesia’s independence, Dodo was a residential area populated by the ancestors of the Ropang Village people. Archeological treasures remain there such as houses, mosques, graves, as well as jackfruit and coconut plantations. In 1930s, the community was relocated from the Dodo area to Ropang District. But since then, they still go to Dodo forest to seek forest products while respecting it as an area where their ancestors are buried.

4. Birth of Social Conflicts

Instead of listening to community demands to end exploration activities, Newmont has sowed seeds of conflict in the community, employing divide and conquer tactics commonly used by mining companies. Newmont established the Elang Rinti Foundation (YERI) through its Senior External Manager, Malik Salim, in cooperation with Ropang Subdistrict Head, Sulaeman S.Sos6. However, the purpose of the YERI Foundation has never been clear. The YERI Foundation has, however, generated much conflict within the community and turned the community’s attention away from scrutinizing the mining operations. The YERI Foundation was formed during a time of heightened community resistance to the mining operations.5

Conflicts have also happened between people and government officials, whereas before Newmont came, government had acted more on the side of the community. Now, there are conflicts between those in favor and those against mining in the area whereas before there was harmony in the community.

5. More Mining and Processing Means More Environmental and Social Impacts

More gold and copper being mined from Elang-Dodo would mean an increase in processing at the Batu Hijau plants and thus an increase in associated environmental and social impacts. The Elang-Dodo area would also be left scarred. Elang-Dodo is expected to contain more reserves than Batu Hijau. The impact of the exploitation of this reserve is expected to be massive and beyond rehabilitation.

Even with only its gold and copper ore processing operation in Batu Hijau, Newmont’s impacts have been highly destructive to farmers and fishermen in Tongo Sejorong and Labuan Lalar, particularly in the Residential Centers SP 1 and SP 2.

Since Newmont started its operations, farmers have experienced difficulties with access to water for their rice fields. Those in Taliwang Regency lost an average 40 % of their agricultural crops in the first cultivating season due to dry conditions. Meanwhile, in Residential Centers SP1 and SP2, and Tongo Sejorong, at least 75 % of rice fields dried up in the first cultivating season of 2005. Due to the water crisis, people who have previously been food independent are now suffering from a food crisis. They have been forced to apply for rice assistance available for the poor from the central Government because of their inability to produce rice any longer.

The drought was caused by the damming of two main rivers in the Sekongkang Regency, Brang Sejorong and Brang Tongo. The two rivers are main irrigation sources to rice fields. Since the mine in Batu Hijau was built, water from the two rivers has been used by Newmont for its ore processing operations.

Newmont has also impacted the people in the coastal area of Tongo Sejorong by dumping its tailings waste into Senunu Bay. Up to 120,000 tons of tailings are dumped in Senunu Bay each day. This amount is sixty times more than the amount dumped into the now infamous Newmont mine waste dumping site in Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Between approximately 76 to 100% of the fishermen in Tongo Sejorong, Benete, and Lahar areas have reported decreases in their income since Newmont began discharging its tailing waste in Senunu Bay (Survey of Ministry of Environment, September 2004). In Labuan Lalar, Sumbawa, hundreds of fishermen also suffer huge economic losses due to depleted marine products such as fish, young milkfish, and shellfish. Income levels are decreasing by billions of Rupiah every month.

Conclusions

Despite the large-scale Batu Hijau mining operations active since the year 2000, research in the area shows that poverty is rampant among the local people. The 2004 UNDP National Human Development Report in Indonesia states that the life expectancy rate in the West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province where Newmont operates is the lowest in the country.6 The people of this province spend the shortest time in formal education than anywhere else in Indonesia, an average of 5.8 years. This means that many people do not even finish elementary education. The province’s Human Development Index is also ranked at the bottom of Indonesia’s thirty provinces. This poverty occurs in the same province that Newmont has been operating and extracting and processing mineral riches for five years. Further Newmont mining forays into Elang Dodo are expected to only bring further environmental destruction, poverty for the local people, and conflict.

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