An Indonesian bishop has waded into a row over a planned geothermal project by writing to President Joko Widodo urging him to cancel the plan. In a letter, a copy of which was obtained by UCA News on June 15, Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng in East Nusa Tenggara province said the project in Wae Sano, a village in West Manggarai district, poses a very serious threat to villagers and the environment. The project, which covers nearly 18 hectares, "is located right on the villagers’ doorstep,” the prelate said. "The drilling point is only 20 to 30 meters from the center of the village and 100 meters from a Catholic Church. Likewise, waste disposal is located in residential areas," he said. He also said the site was only 200 meters from a lake “which has been an integral part of biodiversity and ecology in the region.”
The bishop said he had received complaints from villagers who “felt intimidated by the presence of military and police officers providing security at the site.” “The project is harmful to nature, clean water sources, air, agricultural land and also livestock,” he added. This contradicts with the president's own pledge to improve the welfare of communities through holistic development, from an economic, ecological and cultural perspective, according to the bishop. The project, currently in the exploration stage, was initiated by the central government and is managed by state-owned firm PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur. Co-funded by the government and the World Bank, it is part of a plan to use 16 geothermal sites on Catholic-majority Flores island to meet its electricity needs. The bishop’s letter was also addressed to the finance and energy ministers and the World Bank. Yulianus Jempau, an environmental activist, said villagers wrote to the World Bank last year pleading with it not to fund the project. In response, Peter Johansen, the World Bank’s senior energy specialist, said talks had been planned with the villagers but were put off because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jempau said the bishop’s letter "strengthened the resolve of the villagers.” Yosep Erwin, a villager said the project scared him “because my land cannot be recovered after it is damaged.” "If it is damaged, we have nothing to leave our children and grandchildren," he said.
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