MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining should be banned in protected forests

Published by MAC on 2003-08-04

Mining should be banned in protected forests

The Jakarta Post Opinion and Editorial

4 August 2003

Julia Kalmirah, Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati) and Igor O'Neill, Mineral Policy Institute, Jakarta

Biodiversity in Indonesia is threatened by a mining industry that is pushing the government to grant exemptions to Forestry Law No. 41/1999, which prohibits opencast mining in protected areas. On July 18, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources director general for geology and mineral resources Wimpy S. Tjetjep publicly admitted that the total number of mining companies seeking permission for opencast mining in protected forest areas was 158.

Mining is encroaching into many fragile ecosystems, and what is at stake is a healthy environment and local livelihoods. The opinion piece by Indonesian Mining Association (IMA) executive director P.L. Coutrier, published by The Jakarta Post on July 30, presented a shortsighted perspective encouraging exploitation of natural resources as a vehicle for economic development.

Forest protection, biodiversity conservation and prevention of devastating floods in Indonesia rely heavily on the protected forest and conservation area system. Indonesian protected forest areas are few but are sites of rich biodiversity with profuse endemic flora and fauna species, as well as the homelands of indigenous communities. Biodiversity underpins the environmental services necessary to maintaining productivity and a healthy and stable environment, upon which local, regional and global communities depend -- services such as biodegradation, soil aeration, fertilization and carbon sequestration.

The mining industry, without needing to enter protected areas, already has a vast area under leases covering 66.89 million hectares, which is equal to 35 percent of Indonesia's land area. Not satisfied, the mining industry has been relentlessly lobbying the government to open up new protected areas for mining. The governments of Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom are also lobbying on behalf of their multinational mining company giants, BHP Billiton, Newcrest, Placer Dome and Rio Tinto, on the matter of mining in protected areas.

Multibillion-dollar mining giants are portraying themselves as hapless victims of an arbitrary bureaucratic decision to restrict mining development through unfair environmental regulations. In fact, many of the 158 leases are in areas that have been classified as protected forest for many years. It was always the case that these areas were not appropriate for mining, and it was in 1999 that the government clarified the situation and banned opencast mining in protected areas.

The push to grant exemptions to companies that seek to mine in protected areas has been met with strong opposition from local governments, civil society, indigenous communities and concerned citizens. South Kalimantan Legislative Council (DPRD) has called on the government to reject the application by Placer Dome to mine in the Meratus Mountain forest area. The Meratus Dayak and Samihim council has also objected to the mine, as it will encroach on their sources of water, sacred sites and livelihoods.

In Maluku, 38 village heads from Halmahera regency, and the Kao and Malifut Indigenous Community Council, have expressed outrage at the current resource management scheme, and specifically the potential granting of a mining permit for Newcrest in the Toguraci protected forest.

The claim by the Indonesian Mining Association that "there will be no threat to any area of biodiversity" is a flagrant lie. BHP Billiton's project to mine Gag Island, a protected forest west of Papua, will dump dangerous mine waste into the ocean, employing the controversial submarine tailings disposal technique.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sent a letter to the House of Representatives in June identifying Gag Island's world heritage potential because of its high biodiversity: 505 species of coral, which is an extraordinary 64 percent of all known coral species in the world, and 1,065 fish species, amongst the highest fish diversity in the world. UNESCO warned the government of "possible environmental impacts of mining operations and related submarine tailing disposal on Gag Island in the Raja Empat Archipelago."

The IMA assertion that mine pits only encompass a small land area ignores the fact that the 'ecological footprint' of mining extends well beyond the mine site. Extensive offsite impacts occur due to erosion, water contamination, release of toxic waste and access for illegal logging. Not only do company attempts at revegetation often fail, as in the Indo Muro Kencana mine in Central Kalimantan, but even the best programs can never recreate lost biodiversity. The international conservation agreements ratified by Indonesia recognize that environments that are biodiversity-poor are vulnerable to change triggered by environmental, social or economic factors.

Indonesia has committed to the global conservation of protected areas by ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and agreed to the Statement of Forest Principles. It is part of the United Nations Forest Forum (UNFF). We therefore must honor these international treaties by prohibiting activities, such as mining in protected areas, that threaten biodiversity and forests.

The environmental impact analysis (Amdal) is often dismissed as a sham. There is no mechanism for public consultation or participation by impacted communities. Private environment consultants, hired by mining companies to conduct impact studies, are not independent.

The statement of a high official at the Office of the State Minister of the Environment that mining companies were left out of the 2002 environmental audit process (PROPER) highlights the lack of government capacity to regulate mining impacts.

The IMA claims that the prohibition on mining in protected areas came from the "euphoria of democracy and reform." This trivializes legislation drafted in the best interests of the public, which is the mandate of a democratically elected government. Preserving protected forest areas via a prohibition on opencast mining promotes a sustainable future for all Indonesians.

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