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World Bank pulls out of Indonesia’s disputed power project

Catholic villagers in Flores Island opposed it fearing disruption of their lives, both environmentally and socially
 In this May 9, 2022 photo, residents of Wae Sano village on the Catholic-majority majority Flores Island of Indonesia pose with World Bank representatives after a meeting where they expressed their opposition to a geothermal project. The World Bank has now canceled funding for the project.

In this May 9, 2022 photo, residents of Wae Sano village on the Catholic-majority majority Flores Island of Indonesia pose with World Bank representatives after a meeting where they expressed their opposition to a geothermal project. The World Bank has now canceled funding for the project. (Photo supplied)

Published: October 26, 2023 11:50 AM GMT
Updated: October 26, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

The World Bank has canceled funding for a geothermal project in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority Flores Island amid mounting opposition to it from villagers and a section of Catholics.

In an official letter, the local government in the West Manggarai regency of the island in predominantly Christian East Nussa Tenggara province communicated the World Bank decision to the villagers on Oct. 25.

"The World Bank is no longer involved in financing the project," the letter said.

UCA News has obtained a copy of the notification letter signed by Edistasius Endi, the regent (chief officer) of West Manggarai.  

Endi said that the project would continue “by the government using the geothermal sector infrastructure financing scheme."

He also invited residents to attend a meeting on Nov. 9 to discuss implementation plans with new funders.

The cancellation of funding by the World Bank came after its representatives met directly with residents twice last year, responding to residents' requests in letters accusing the project of violating their rights.

During a visit in December, residents protested before a meeting of community leaders and  World Bank representatives.

Catholic villager Rofinus Rabun said they will continue to oppose the project because it has not been canceled and only the funders have changed.

"As long as Wae Sano geothermal is in people's living space, there is only one word; we reject it," he said on Oct. 26.

Yosef Erwin Rahmat, another villager, said that the community's stance has not changed, “according to the narratives we have put forward, including during two meetings with the World Bank representatives.”

“No matter who funds it, we will reject it,” he said.

The power project is part of the national strategic project, and it aims to generate 35 megawatts of geothermal energy.

The government named Flores a geothermal island in 2017 and plans to utilize geothermal projects in 17 locations, as part of its efforts to shift from fossil energy to renewable energy.

While the villagers opposed the project citing possible negative impacts on the environment and agriculture, it has divided the church.

Ruteng Diocese, which covers three regencies in the the west part of Flores – Manggarai, West Manggarai and East Manggarai, allegedly supported the project.

However, the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission (JPIC) of the Franciscans and Divine Word congregations expressed solidarity with the protesters.

In May 2020, Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng sent a letter to President Joko Widodo, recommending to continue the project.

The letter drew protests from villagers, who accused the bishop of ignoring their voices.

Father Simon Suban Tukan, coordinator of Divine Word JPIC Commission, said they appreciate the World Bank withdrawing from the project as it respects the villagers’ concerns.

However, "the problem is far from over," he told UCA News on Oct. 26.

"The main problem is not the funding, but that the project disrupts people's lives, both environmentally and socially," he said.

Villagers have opposed the project since it was proposed in 2015 pointing to the dangers of harnessing energy from heat under the earth's surface, close to their homes in the earthquake-prone district.

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