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After decades of exploitation, Java on brink of ecological crisis

December 31, 2015

A group of concerned scientists, researchers, environmentalists and agrarian activists launched a petition on Tuesday calling on the government to take aggressive action to stop what they deemed the ongoing ecological destruction in Java.

The group urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to instruct the state-owned enterprises and environment and forestry ministries to review the environmental management feasibility of all cement factories, gold and sand mining, as well as all power plant companies operating in Java. The group blamed the rapid deterioration of the environment in Java on the industrial activities.

The group also called on the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry to review a number of regional spatial plans (RTRW) that it said accommodated infrastructure projects without considering the principles of environmental justice.

One of 248 signatories of the petition, Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) senior researcher Soeryo Adiwibowo, said that industrial activities had led to steep forest cover decline in Java, from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 3 percent currently.

Soeryo said the forest loss had not only led to disasters such as flooding, prolonged drought and forest fires but also land conflicts, which mostly involved private firms and indigenous people.

“The biggest contributors to our ecological crisis are economic and political decisions that ignore environmental consequences,” Soeryo said.

Eko Cahyono, executive director of the Bogor-based Sajogyo Institute agrarian study center, said that the cement industry could bring about a catastrophic ecological crisis, especially in places such as Mount Kendeng Utara in Central Java, where the operations of a cement company could impact its surrounding regencies — Rembang, Pati and Grobogan.

A lower court in Pati ordered the closure of a local cement factory in November, effectively halting the limestone mining operations of PT Sahabat Mulia Sakti.

“The biggest contributors to our ecological crisis are economic and political decisions that ignore environmental consequences,”

Another destructive activity is ironsand mining in Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta, where the practice has not only changed the area’s landscape but deprived hundreds of local farmers of arable land.

Hendro Sangkoyo of the School of Democratic Economics research institute highlighted that in the last five years, the private sector, which ran mining or related industries, had become a key player in environmental destruction and that the government had done little to reign it in.

He said that the government issued this year a number of business permits for mining companies that resulted in the eviction of locals.

He said that Jokowi’s pledge to improve infrastructure could result in ecological disaster.

“It’s impossible for the government to prevent ecological disaster by boosting infrastructure development because such development requires companies to produce materials such as cement,” Hendro said.

A senior researcher with IPB’s forestry department, Hariadi Kartodihardjo, said that local governments shared the blame for environmental degradation.

IPB data said that between 2007 and 2008, there were at least 122 of 278 bylaws passed by local governments in Java that made it easy for companies to exploit natural resources. Most of Java is prone to natural disaster on account of worsening ecological problems.

“In 2015, of 118 regencies and municipalities in Java, 80 percent experienced heavy flooding, while 90 percent suffered from prolonged drought,” Hariadi said.

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