MAC/20: Mines and Communities

HUNGER STRIKES COMMUNITY AROUND NEWMONT BATU HIJAU MINE

Published by MAC on 2005-10-20

HUNGER STRIKES COMMUNITY AROUND NEWMONT BATU HIJAU MINE

Statement from JATAM, Indonesia

October 20 2005

For the last three months, communities in Sekongkang district, West Sumbawa regency have been suffering from a water crisis. It causes the majority of farm lands to fail to produce crops, threatening people with hunger. The crisis location is adjacent to the location of PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (PT NNT) mining site in Batuhijau. Newmont Batuhijau mining is currently the biggest gold miner in Indonesia which and was just recently received Green Award in the PROPER (Industrial Performance Assessment Program) of The Ministry of Environment.

"We have submitted proposals for food aid to the Government through the district government three months ago, but no response whatsoever until now", said Sahar, chairman of P3A (Water User Farmers Union) of SP1 (Residence Centre 1) in a meeting with JATAM.

At least 75 percent of farmers' rice plants in the area fails to harvest, leaving only a few farmers who manage to harvest. Many of the growing plants do not contain any rice in them. In the second cultivating season of this year, the farmers cannot plant any more rice because no water is available for irrigation. Only a few hectares of land can get water from a dam (embung puja) built by PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (PT NNT). The dam, however, can only water around 7 hectares of rice fields in Tongo Sejorong village, while hundreds other fields are remain deserted.

Water Crisis near Newmont Mine

The water crisis has ocurred because PT NNT dammed two of the biggest rivers in Sekongkang district, namely river Sejorong and river Tongo, and uses the water for its gold processing in Batuhijau. Both the rivers used to be main irrigation source for local people's ricefield. Newmont once tried to solve the crisis by building artificial irrigations. However, since the rivers' springs are situated next to the open pit of Batuhijau mine, which is much deeper than the springs, the rivers are unable to water the entire fields. The blocking of those two main rivers has put an end to people water supply, especially for agricultural purpose.

Besides building dams, PT NNT also built wind-generated drilling wells. But these wells were also incapable of fulfilling the need for water because the water supply has drastically decreased since mine operations took place. Why doesn't Newmont pump out the water from the wells it built itself?

Last Resource

Agriculture is the only life support to most people in SP1, SP2, and Tongo Sejorong villages, because people can no longer get additional income from forest products or marine catches as in the past. There used to be many sources of additional income like palm sugar, rattan, or wood from the forest. But today, none of these can be obtained to get more income. Newmont prohibites people from entering the forest and palm plantations that were considered included within Newmont's contract of work (CoW) area. A twig can even take them to jail.

The same thing goes for marine products. People used to earn quite a lot from gathering fish. But these are gone since PT NNT started dumping 120,000 tonnes of tailings per day into Senunu Bay, the coastal area of Tongo Sejorong village, Sekongkang district, West Sumbawa Regency. Since tailings dumped into the bay, fishes, crabs, shells, and other sea animals have gone and it is the same with fishing folks' income.

Water Crisis Turns into Food Crisis

Due to their condition, people are expecting the government to seriously think about their fate. Because of harvesting failure, people are hoping that the government will provide them with rice (food) aid. Farmers are also urging Newmont mining to compensate them for closing their access to economic resources in the forest.

Even if farmers were able to grow plants, the yield is too little. Most of them can only obtain 5 to 6 sacks of rice from their lands. This is certainly incompatible with the costs they have to pay for maintaining the plants.

(Data compiled by JATAM West Sumbawa Region (August 11 2005).

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