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Indonesia

Indonesian governor blames flood disaster on palm oil firms

West Kalimantan chief vows permit purge after companies refuse to help victims

Indonesian governor blames flood disaster on palm oil firms

A submerged road in Bukit Rawi Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan province, on Nov. 9. (Photo courtesy of Fransiskus Sani Lake)

An Indonesian provincial governor has vowed to crack down on the issuing of permits to palm oil firms after flash floods hit several areas of Borneo, killing several people and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

West Kalimantan governor Sutarmidji, who goes by only one name, said on Nov. 10 that he will revoke permits after blaming the flooding on the activities of palm oil firms.

The governor's anger came to a head on Nov. 9 when various firms in his province refused his call to help flood victims.

"They just want to get rich in West Kalimantan, but they don't want to care about the people," he said.

He said that as long as he is governor he no longer wants anything to do with palm oil companies.

Flooding has hit many areas in Kalimantan over the past few weeks, with several districts in West Kalimantan province being worst hit.

Since these industries came, every time it rains, all rivers overflow. This has been happening since at least 2013 and gets worse every year

Floods in Sintang district submerged more than 35,000 homes and displaced at least 140,000 residents, according to the disaster management agency.

Fransiskus Sani Lake, director of the Catholic lay-run advocacy organization Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Kalimantan, said the disaster was caused by deforestation carried out for palm oil plantations and mining.

“Since these industries came, every time it rains, all rivers overflow. This has been happening since at least 2013 and gets worse every year,” he told UCA News.

These industries control huge swathes of land in the region.

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According to environmental groups, about 1.2 million hectares or 33 percent of South Kalimantan province's land area is controlled by coal mining and around 620,000 hectares or 17 percent is controlled by oil palm plantations.

Although Lake voiced support for Sutarmidji's threat to revoke permits, he said the government needs to evaluate the situation.

"Why? Because the government itself has also been issuing permits without caring about the environment,” he said.

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