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

The woe of Samarinda

In a Makroman farming district, half an hour from the center of Samarinda, the chirps and quacks of fowl in rice paddies compete with trucks’ roaring engines.

Samarinda’s administration gave a mining company permission to dig up the earth in the capital’s farming area in 2007. A year after the mine operated, chemicals from the mine seeped into farmers’ water source and entered fish ponds and rice paddies, causing farmers’ yield to fall to half of its original production output, according to Baharudin, a leader of the local farming group.

East Kalimantan has experienced a mining boom in the past decade. The boom has brought foreign and local investors to the area. The pervasiveness of the mining industry is most pronounced in the capital, Samarinda, where mining concessions are granted without the consideration of the local community.

In 2009, the House of Representatives passed the law on mineral and coal that limited regional administrative power in the issuance of mining permits. Before regional powers were limited in the concession licensing, Samarinda issued 38 new licenses between 2005 and 2009, according to data from the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), giving the city a total of 76 mining concessions.

The mining concessions area more than doubled from around 20,000 hectares to more than 50,000 hectares. The mine that polluted Makroman farmers’ rice paddies and fishponds was one of these concessions.

More than 70 percent of Samarinda’s area has been allocated to mining concessions. They have reached the residential areas too. In Makroman, the mines are next to rice paddies. In Loa Kulu, a mine pit is behind an elementary school. In 2009, resident’s houses in Loa Kulu were destroyed due to a landslide caused by mining activities.

When The Jakarta Post visited the area, the pit had been covered with soil. However, in 2012 more than 100 pits around the city were yet to be reclaimed according to data from Samarinda’s Environmental Agency.

East Kalimantan JATAM coordinator Kahar Al Bahri said that the Samarinda administration maneuvered the 2009 law on mineral and coal through the property business, an area where land is also in the hands of private companies.

He said that even after the 2009 law on mineral and coal was passed, new mines still opened up. The
Samarinda administration gave rights of resources to property developers that found coal on their land, Kahar said.

“If the property developers find coal on their land they can exploit the source first and then build property,” he said. In fact, some property developers were not interested in building houses at all but used this loophole to get to the coal, Kahar added.

Recently, the Constitutional Court ruled that regional administrations have the right to issue permits, after Kutai Timur regency, which is also part of East Kalimantan and home to mining concessions of Kaltim Prima Coal of Bumi Resources, requested a judicial review.

Samarinda’s leaders say they are striving for damage control. Since taking office on Nov. 23, 2010, the “political commitment” was to cease the issuance of new mining business permits, said Deputy Mayor Nusyirwan Ismail.

With so many concessions already — and with the city’s rapid development and its population of over 926,000 — environmental conflicts are becoming “highly sensitive”, Nusyirwan said. The district of North Samarinda is of particular concern, with further growth expected with the new airport.

As for mine hunters in the guise of property developers, the official said procedures were being tightened in the issuance of land permits.

Integrated teams check the area prior to property work and any suspected activity other than property development is reported to the police. The result of regular inspections are announced and published through the media on the 25th of every month, Nusyirwan added.

The procedures carried out since last February have resulted in the revocation of permits of four companies, he said. The announcements also include the companies that are operating well and not damaging the environment; those that gained written warnings, those whose operations are suspended for a month during which the surrounding environment must be repaired; and those whose permits would be revoked if progress was considered below 70 percent after one month.

JATAM representative Kahar argues that the environmental and safety control over the mines remains lax. Many of the pits excavated close to residential areas have been abandoned without reclamation, often with fatal consequences. Five children fell in abandoned mine pits filled with water in 2011 in Sambutan district. Two of the children died.

Back in Makroman, Komari, 70, a farmer who has worked the land for nearly 30 years, said that the water had changed in his area, affecting his produce.

“In the old days, it was so clear,” he said while walking barefoot among the rice paddy.

“I used to produce 8 tons [of rice]. Now, if we can produce 4 tons, we consider ourselves lucky,” he said.

Komari said that there had been little support for farmers. At the JATAM office, Kahar said that many politicians in the Samarinda and East Kalimantan council had a vested interest in mining, as they or their families were in the business.

Komari’s house is within Samarinda city limits, but the family is still not connected to the power grid. A generator is used to light the house at night and to power the water pump.

JATAM has been advocating for the rights of farmers in Makroman since 2008. Kahar muses about the lack of electricity there.

“Isn’t it ironic that we’re sending our coal overseas to power other countries’ power plants and next
to the coal mines here, houses are powerless?”

— JP/Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman


The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Thu, January 17 2013

Escaping the ‘resource curse’: E. Kalimantan at the tipping point

Back to back: A coal mine adjacent to a rice field in Makroman, Sambutan district in Samarinda, the capital of Indonesia’s third-richest province. Its deputy mayor has said the municipality is determined to tighten supervision of the industry in the face of environmental degradation and “highly sensitive” issues regarding mines around the rapidly growing city. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)

Can East Kalimantan become the “center of growth for East Asia?” This is the claim made by the East Kalimantan governor in what is indeed a promising province, judging by its economic figures alone. But, how can East Kalimantan’s leaders and people overcome this province’s ills; most notoriously, its environmental degradation? Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman report from the cities of Samarinda, Tarakan and Tenggarong for this first of a two-part series.

Tugboats pulling pontoons filled with towering piles of coal glide along the Mahakam River at 8 a.m. Each of the pontoons can carry between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of coal.

Within 10 minutes, nearly 48,000 tons of coal pass underneath the Mahakam Bridge and are transported out to the Makassar Strait where it will be shipped to fuel power plants in other countries, such as China, Japan and South Korea. Indonesia was the largest exporter of coal in 2010, mostly due to activities like this in East Kalimantan. Government figures show that in 2011, the province produced 204.99 million tons of coal, 45 percent more than 2010’s 140.75 million tons.

The date Jan. 9 marks East Kalimantan’s anniversary since the creation of the province in 1957, when Kalimantan was split into three regions 12 years after Indonesia’s independence. Today, East Kalimantan is at a tipping point between either escaping or falling into the “resource curse”, a condition of dependency on the extractive industry hampering development of other sectors, and where a region’s growth will stagnate or contract as non-renewable resource reserves deplete.

The province’s leaders are optimistic. “The province is no longer a ‘sleeping giant’,” Governor Awang Faroek Ishak told The Jakarta Post, recalling President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s assessment of the province.

The assessment is true in two ways. Its size is less gigantic: in October 2012, the House of Representatives passed a bill to create a new North Kalimantan province, splitting the area of East Kalimantan into East and North Kalimantan. Previously, East Kalimantan was the second-largest province in Indonesia after Papua. The second truism in the assessment, which was what Yudhoyono was referring to, is development and the region’s potential.

“East Kalimantan is running fast,” Awang said. He added that in the long term, East Kalimantan would be the “center of growth for East Asia”, pointing to the region’s strategic location and natural resources.

The realization of Awang and Yudhoyono’s dream is yet to be seen as East Kalimantan plans a number of projects, such as a special industrial zone and international port in Maloy, East Kutai regency; 6 million hectares of oil palm plantations, also in Maloy; and a Balikpapan-
Samarinda toll road that will be the local equivalent of the Pantura (Java’s North Coast Road). “All these are long-term programs. The third governor after my tenure will enjoy the fruits of this,” Awang said.

A day before the province’s 56th anniversary, Awang stood before the provincial legislative council in Samarinda and listed the achievements of the province — the highest contribution to the country’s export output; third in competitiveness after Jakarta and East Java; third in the value of foreign and local incoming investment; and so on. Awang, 67, is a big man, whose public-speaking mannerisms resemble that of the President. His hands waved and bounced in the air as he spoke.

Awang’s speech highlighted that resource-rich East Kalimantan was a rising region in Indonesia. Millions of dollars of investment are pouring in and commodities, mostly oil, gas and coal, are pouring out. Awang mentioned that the province contributed the most in 2011 to the country’s export output with a value of US$37.97 billion. This was more than 50 percent higher than the previous year’s export output of $25.12 billion. As of October 2012, its export output stood at $27.71 billion. In 2011, it had the highest gross regional domestic product (GRDP) per capita in the country, standing at Rp 105.85 million (US$10,986) per year.

But East Kalimantan’s achievements are not without consequences. A ride around the capital shows the environmental destruction of Samarinda. Being the capital, it is a telling example of the shape of things to come in the rest of province’s regions. The city is surrounded and squeezed in by mines. In all directions from the city center, hills are sliced and chopped. Red and dusty barren land has replaced the once green jungle. The mines are very close to residential areas, causing in 2009 houses in a Samarinda district called Loa Kulu to subside due to a landslide, according to Said, a local resident.

Concerns are also mounting, given that the province’s coal reserves will eventually be exhausted, that East Kalimantan’s non-renewable-resource economy faces the inevitable risk of coming to a halt. The province is highly dependent on these resources with more than 70 percent of its GRDP coming from them.

The East Kalimantan Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) likens the current mining boom to that of the logging boom two decades ago, when the timber industry thrived between the late-1970s to late-1990s. Coordinator for JATAM’s East Kalimantan chapter, Kahar Al Bahri, said that the timber industry, which had evicted indigenous people from their ancestral forestland, folded when the forest could no longer produce timber. “The same thing will happen with coal mining. We predict a 20-year cycle of a resource boom. It was 20 years for the timber industry, and we estimate the coal boom will not last longer than 20 years. By 2030, the coal resources will be depleted,” he said. Government figures estimated that East Kalimantan coal reserves in 2011 stood at more than 8 billion tons, lasting 50 years based on the assumption of 150 million tons being produced each year.

Kahar said that extractive industries showed the illusion of economic growth as they required millions of dollars worth of investment and yielded millions of dollars in profits for companies. “But they don’t create that many jobs,” he said. While the province’s GRDP is highly dependent on extractive industries, only 5.6 percent of the working population is employed in these industries. More than 50 percent of the population depends on agriculture.

“At the village level, there seems to be an effort to destroy village communities. People used to be able to live off the forest and have farms, but their yields have now halved and farming areas are shrinking to make way for mines,” he said.

On paper, the government appreciates the yawning gap between extractive industries and other sectors and the environmental degradation the industries are causing. The government is working to change the economic structure of the province by prioritizing agriculture and oleo-chemical industries.

However, skepticism is strong. The government’s plan for agriculture focuses on large-scale agriculture rather than on small landholdings, such as the 50,000-hectare Food Estate Delta Kayan Bulungan in Bulungan regency, now part of North Kalimantan. Margaretha Seting Beraan from the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples (AMAN) also doubts whether indigenous people’s rights will be respected during the establishment of industrial zones in Maloy.

Meanwhile, another sector that needs attention to escape the resource curse is human capital. East Kalimantan has allocated Rp 70 billion for scholarships since 2009, with more than 73,000 recipients through 2012. In collaboration with the Education and Culture Ministry, the province plans to also establish a Kalimantan Institute of Technology in Balikpapan. A hundred people were being sent to study at the Surabaya Institute of Technology (ITS), Awang said, and some 300 hectares of land would be allocated for the new school.

“We want to have our own ITB [Bandung Institute of Technology] and, hopefully, one that is better than that,” Awang said.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Thu, January 17 2013