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Report lays bare geothermal threat to Indonesian tribals

Communities, environment at risk because of damage from controversial energy scheme on Flores, church group claims

Report lays bare geothermal threat to Indonesian tribals

Two technicians examine an installation at a geothermal power plant in Kamojang, Indonesia. (Photo by Adek Berry/AFP)

A large government geothermal project threatens more than 1,000 indigenous farmers and protected forests on Indonesia’s Flores Island, according to a report by a church environmental group.

The project has damaged the homes of at least 1,200 farmers from four villages in East Nusa Tenggara province’s West Manggarai district, as well as their rice fields, according to the 77-page report by the Franciscan Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

The report was submitted to local authorities on Oct. 29 as part of their call to have the energy project permanently stopped. Operations have been suspended since February pending instructions from the government. 

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Geothermal energy is controversial because it involves extracting heat energy contained in the earth's crust. Activists claim methods used to access this energy have negative impacts on the environment.

As well as damaging settlements, the energy scheme will destroy protected forests that are home to water sources and a wide array of animal species, the report said. "Traditions passed down from generation to generation are also threatened,” it added.

Commission executive secretary Valen Dulmin said the report was a result of investigations conducted since February and involved interviews with local people and project officials.

He said that since the plant was completed in 2017 local people’s rights have been ignored.

“The company claims most community members gave their consent. However, people feel they were cheated because none of those from areas directly affected by the project were asked for their opinions,” Dulmin told ucanews.

The project is operated by state-owned PT Sarana Multi Infrastructure (SMI). It's part of a plan to utilize "geothermal potential” presented by the country's active volcanoes to help meet Flores' electricity needs, according to the Indonesian government, which has pursued similar projects on other islands over the last few years.

The Flores scheme is co-funded by the government and the World Bank.

All that has been achieved since drilling began in 2006 is damage to property and no electricity supplied, Dulmin said.

Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, an environmentalist and lecturer at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy, accused the government of bowing to the interests of investors.

"People cannot be forced to leave their villages and their economic and cultural wealth just to provide opportunities for corporations," he said.

Local residents said they are refusing to leave their homes and will continue to fight for their rights.

Genoveva Mia, 65, a resident from Wae Sano, one of the affected villages, said she would prefer to live without electricity than let her village be destroyed. "My village is a result of the hard work of our ancestors and must be protected," she told ucanews.

Paulus Dulu, another resident, called on the government to look at other sources of power. "Solar power is an option the government can follow, so we won’t lose our lands,” he said.

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