Samarinda floods blamed on mining

Panorama: A view of the East Kalimantan town of Samarinda and the Mahakam river, taken from Lipan Hill. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)
Panorama: A view of the East Kalimantan town of Samarinda and the Mahakam river, taken from Lipan Hill. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)

As it goes in Jakarta, so it goes in Samarinda: heavy rains bring big floods.

A lack of water catchment areas has made flooding a certainty in Samarinda, according to local residents. And many residents of the East Kalimantan provincial capital blame the ubiquitous coal mines around the city.

East Kalimantan is known for its wealth of natural resources. The last decade has seen a boom in the region, especially in Samarinda, which has given out 76 mining concessions comprising more than 70 percent of its area. East Kalimantan has more than 1,000 mining concessions in total, in addition to numerous oil and gas blocks.

The transmogrification of green hills into open mine pits has left the once-forested city bare. The East Kalimantan Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) has reported that Samarinda has reserved only 690 hectares of forest for water catchments, about 1 percent of its total area. Further, JATAM coordinator Kahar Al Bahri said that most of the city’s swamps had been converted into residential or industrial areas.

“When it rains in Samarinda it always floods now,” Kahar said.

Environmental experts have estimated that the city needs to designate at least 27 percent of its land as urban forests for water catchment. The city is 19,000 hectares short of that target.

Conditions are different in Balikpapan, the business capital of East Kalimantan.

Bakro, a Samarinda resident who hails from Malang, Central Java, said that Samarinda and Balikpapan, two of the most important cities in the province, were run quite differently.

“Balikpapan is better managed. They don’t provide licenses to mine willy-nilly,” he said.

Samarinda, on the other hand, seemed to be managed rather haphazardly, he said. “But because of that it’s easier to survive in Samarinda. You can go and be a street vendor anywhere in that city,” according to Bakro. “You can’t do that in Balikpapan.”

Despite the ease in finding informal work in Samarinda, environmental degradation in the city has taken its toll on its residents. Early last year, the dam that held water discharged by the mine of Samarinda Prima Coal burst and inundated hundreds of houses in muddy water, JATAM reported.

Local residents and a coalition of NGOs then launched a class-action suit against the Samarinda administration, claiming that officials had mismanaged the city and harmed residents by granting too many
mining concessions.

Samarinda Deputy Mayor Nusyirwan Ismail said that he was aware of the environmental destruction that could be wreaked by mining companies. He told The Jakarta Post that the city administration had a “creative way” to intensify its monitoring of coal mining.

The local mining agency and environmental agency monitor miners based on their adherence to environmental standards.

Companies with a low level of compliance are shut down for a month and told to repair any environmental damage.

“If after one month there is no significant improvement — or in other words no progress up to 70 percent — then their permits will be rescinded,” Nusyirwan said.

According to the deputy mayor, the permits of four companies have been rescinded for poor adherence to environmental regulations.

Nusyirwan said that there have been many conflicts between local residents and mining companies on environmental issues. “Samarinda is growing and has more than 926,000 residents. There can be frictions.”

“That’s why as a political contract, we will not issue new permits.”

– JP/Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman/Samarinda

The Jakarta Post | Special Report | Fri, January 18 2013

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