Open-pit mines endanger lives, naturePublished by MAC on 2002-09-21
Open-pit mines endanger lives, nature
Source: Jakarta Post, September 21, 2002
By Dadan Wijaksana and Musthofid , Jakarta
Environmentalists have raised alarm over a recent recommendation from legislators to allow four mining companies to resume open-pit mining operations in protected forests, citing potential huge losses to the country's biodiversity, toxic waste and the ensuing possible loss of human lives. "This (the decision) is a disgrace. It only shows, again, its (the House's) lack of commitment for the preservation of our forests," Togu Manurung, a professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) and director of Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), said at a press briefing here Wednesday. "Already, we lose more than 2 million hectares of forests each year. It's important that we protect the remainder of our forests, especially the protected ones," he said.
The government banned open-pit mining in 1999 because of its grave impacts on the environment and human lives. Longgena Ginting of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) concurred, pointing out that the benefits from mining operations would not offset the severe damage to the environment and ecosystem. Both Togu and Longgena insisted that the decision would be so damaging to the environment that any post-reclamation effort to bring the ecosystem back would be almost impossible. Open-pit mining means massive land clearing within a company's concession area before it can start digging for mining products. This land clearance endangers wildlife and flora in the area and its surroundings. The tailings, or chemical wastes, are toxic. The long period of mining operations, usually spanning tens of years, would produce huge quantities of toxic waste that can contaminate the surrounding lands, and often the rivers, too.
Open-pit mining also jeopardizes the lives of indigenous people in the areas as they usually have a high level of dependency on the forests. Land clearing activities will deprive the indigenous people of their land and their livelihood, threatening their existence. "These are the kinds of environmental and social costs that need to be taken into account when making the decision, instead of mere economic considerations that protect the interests of investors," Togu said. Legislators earlier claimed that the four companies had met all the requirements, which included a guarantee to prevent the impacts of their explorations on the environment, to carry out post-exploration reclamation efforts and to comply with the regulation on the amount of deposits they are allowed to procure. The four companies are PT Gag Nickel on Gag Island, Papua province, PT Weda Bay Nickel in Tabobo, Maluku province, PT Nusa Halmahera in Central Halmahera, Maluku province, and PT Citra Palu Minerals in Palu, Central Sulawesi province.
The companies have been selected from a shortlist of 22 mining companies the government had proposed to the House to be allowed to resume mining operations after being forced to stop following the enactment of Law No. 41/1999 on forestry, which bans open-pit mining operations. There are some 150 companies that have obtained mining permits for operations in protected forests, covering about one-fifth of protected forest areas, or around 11.4 million hectares across the country. The recommendation for the four companies was issued by a team comprising members of House Commission III on forestry and agriculture and Commission VIII on energy and mineral resources, and the environment. The team is currently assessing requests from the other 18 companies and will submit the results to Commissions III and VIII. The commissions will then make their decision whether or not to grant the permits.
Togu added that the decision also violated several international conventions on biodiversity and forest conservation and protection. Indonesia has ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), agreed to the statement of Forest Principles and has become a member of the United Nations Forest Forum, meaning that Indonesia should be highly committed to these principles. Article 7 of the CBD stipulates that countries are obliged to prevent negative impacts from forest exploitation activities, while Article 8 states that countries must develop protected areas with the goal of conserving those areas.