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Mining industries swallow 60 percent of Indonesia's forests

Political and business elite leave people powerless, says bishop

Mining industries swallow 60 percent of Indonesia's forests

Bishop Agustinus Agus speaks during yesterday's meeting

Data from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment says that 60 percent of the country’s 130 million hectares of forest has now been given over to extractive industries such as mining.

The statistic has prompted a prominent bishop to warn that Indonesia’s political and business elite are ignoring complaints from disadvantaged people and profiting from environmental destruction.

“When there is an environmental issue, people have no power in dealing with the government and businessmen,” said Bishop Agustinus Agus of Sintang in West Kalimantan, who is also chairman of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People.

Those living on the fringes of society, like the Dayak, are most at risk, he told a gathering of priests, nuns and environmentalists at a discussion yesterday in Jakarta.

“In West Kalimantan, the presence of companies running oil palm plantations marginalizes Dayak people, who own the land. In many cases, they often lose when there is a conflict with the companies. The law doesn’t side with them.”

The Dayak are non-Muslim indigenous people living in Borneo.

He said he supported the government, “but we must not keep silent when we see destruction.”

Most threatened forests are located in Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, where mining activities and oil palm plantations are widespread.

The Mining Advocacy Network says that 10,677 mining permits had been issued by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources up until last year, which could compound the problems. Between 2004 and 2012, there were 1,724 cases of environmental destruction caused by mining activities.

Father Fransiskus de Sales Sani Lake from the Commission for Justice and Peace of the diocese of Palangkaraya, central Kalimantan, said that a nexus had formed between businessmen and authorities that facilitated the problem.

“A policy can be bought there. Who buys it? Businessmen,” he claimed.

Inar Ichsana Ishak, from the Environment Ministry’s Socio-cultural, Environmental and Health Desk, acknowledged that the government remained powerless, and added that “there is no coordination between the central and local governments in evaluating companies tending to destroy the environment.”

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