Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation on earth is making history as the number one destroyer of the forests.
?Greenpeace basing its conclusions on FAO figures has nominated Indonesia as the fastest forest destroyer in the world and it has been validated by the Guinness World Book of Records and it will be coming out in the next edition of their book, in 2008?, explained Dina Purita Antonio-Jufri, acclaimed journalist, filmmaker and forest defender from Philippines. ?I and the campaigner actually looked that it would happen.?
?The speed of destruction of Indonesian forests is about equivalent of 300 football fields an hour. What it means practically for the country is that one of the last 7 remaining rain forest in the world is highly threatened. Indonesia has a global responsibility. It is a big disaster in terms of the climate implications.?
Indonesia, despite miniscule size of its economy (with almost 250 million inhabitants its GDP is only about 257.6 billion dollars, making it slightly smaller than that of Austria with 8.1 million inhabitants and slightly larger than that of Norway with 4.6 million inhabitants) sends some of the most poisonous pollutants to the atmosphere.
8% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from central Kalimantan (Island of Borneo) in Indonesia. Country is in 3rd place (after the USA and China) in the global emission ranking.
?Huge areas in Kalimantan, Indonesia, were once swamp forests ? forests rich in biodiversity and home to the wild orangutan?, according to a Dutch environmentalist and adventurer Edwin Van Gorp. ?Due to extensive drainage for logging, much of it illegal, palm oil plantations and pulp wood, the peat that used to be covered by dense swamp forests, now oxidizes into huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). It is now a storage house of giga-tones of sequestered carbon. Over a period of 8,000 years, decaying plant matter from the swamp forests has built up 15 – 20 meters high domes of peat. The drainage have exposed and dried the peat beds, making them susceptible to fire ? especially during prolonged drought. Forested tropical peat lands in SE Asia store at least 42,000 Megatons of soil carbon (twice the total global yearly annual emissions). This carbon is increasingly released to the atmosphere due to drainage and fires associated with palm oil plantation development and logging. Emissions from South-east Asian peat lands now count for 8% of the global emissions.?
Fires are becoming so intensive, that during the dry season Singapore, as well as Kuala Lumpur and many other Malaysian cities are choking from smoke, which is blowing across the sea from Indonesian island of Sumatra. Stores, businesses and schools in Singapore and Malaysia have to be shut down and hospitals are filled with people suffering from respiratory problems.
Pollution from burning forests is not the only environmental catastrophe Indonesians have to face. Jakarta – the capital city with approximately 10 million inhabitants ? is one of the most polluted cities in the world with almost no environmentally friendly mode of public transportation and basically no waste management. Garbage is being burned right in the middle of the poor and middle class neighborhoods; centuries old Dutch canals are clogged with the rubbish, causing devastating flooding during the rainy season.
Illegal logging is widespread not only in remote areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, but also on the island of Java, which is with over 150 million inhabitants the most over-populated large island in the world. Logging triggers landslides, causing death of thousands of poor peasants in the countryside.
Logging goes hand in hand with corruption. According to Berlin-based Transparency International, Indonesia is one of the most corrupt countries on earth (it ranks 144, squeezed between Gambia and Togo). Commenting on release of one of the most notorious Indonesian loggers ? Adelin Lis -from jail after being found not guilty by the court, Dina Purita Antonio-Jufri explained:
?At the moment, what makes Indonesia the 3rd largest CO2 emitter in the world is the fact that there is a lot of land conversions and it is done in the forest areas. Sadly the fact remains that out of 47 parks and conservation areas, 37 have companies operating on them; companies licensed by the government. Now we cannot even say that we are combating illegal logging. Today, for instance, I heard that the court has found one of the biggest loggers not guilty. So we are speaking about ?Destructive Large Scale Industrial Logging? instead of ?illegal Logging?, because the government had licensed most of the activities. And corruption plays very important role in all this.?
In Indonesia, personal and business interests are almost exclusively put above public interests as well as those of the planet. Cynicism in post-1965 era brought country to its knees, making it one of the least compassionate places on earth. Majority of Indonesian citizens live in poverty, with no medical insurance and no pension plan, drinking contaminated water, attending some of the worst schools in Asia. It comes as a little surprise that under such circumstances, mostly desperate Indonesians show hardly any interest in environment or in a plight of disappearing species, such as threatened Orangutan (in direct translation ?A forest man?).
But environment comes to haunt people in a form of increasingly frequent natural disasters. The UN claims that in 2006 Indonesia lost more lives to natural disasters than any other country on earth. Many Indonesian islands, part of the largest archipelago in the world, are disappearing from the face of the earth, due to the global warming and rising of sea level.
Local business elites seem to be preoccupied with the quick profits much more than they are with the long-term social and environmental impact of their activities on Indonesia and the rest of the world. In his article ?Orangutans in the wild could be extinct within the decade?, acclaimed reporter David McNeill writes about sinister business with seemingly benign palm oil:
?Extracted from the fast-growing oil palm tree, the commodity is now probably the world?s most popular vegetable oil, surpassing its soybean alternative and used in a tenth of all supermarket products, including crisps, biscuits, toothpaste, margarines, detergents and cosmetics. So ubiquitous is the oil that few UK supermarkets have ever seriously considered removing it from their shelves. And 85 percent of it comes from Malaysia and Indonesia ? the world?s No. 1 and No. 2 producers respectively — often from giant mono-crop plantations hewn from the tropical forests and run by agri-business concerns with powerful political support. Greed drives the industry,? says Dr. Galdikas. ?The industry is tied with the political elite who are making bundles of money off this. You have to see these mansions in Jakarta to understand the money that is coming from it.? She calls the clearance of central Borneo to make way for the plantations a ?scorched earth? policy. ?It is unbelievable.?
Unlike China, Indonesia never managed to live from its industrial production. Blessed with enormous natural resources, it embarked (especially in the time of post-1965 military dictatorship) on setting-up countless mining and oil exploration ventures, often cooperating with giant international companies. Needless to say, great majority of Indonesian people never benefited from the raw materials, which made small group of business people and politicians in Jakarta filthy rich.
Now oil is almost exhausted and Indonesia became its net importer. Elites, used to quick and easy cash, are eying new horizons. Rubber plants and palm oil are perfect for Indonesia?s tropical weather. This time the price will be very high ? environmental destruction and further tens of thousands of victims of ?natural? disasters ? but that is the price Indonesian nouveau riche will be happy to accept. The bill will not be paid by them, but by the poor.
ANDRE VLTCHEK: novelist, journalist and filmmaker, Editorial Director of Asiana Press Agency (www.asiana-press-agency.com), co-founder of Mainstay Press (www.mainstaypress.org), publishing house for political fiction. His latest novel about war correspondents ? ?Point of No Return? ? is available through Amazon.com and other outlets. Andre is covering ?disappearing nations? in Pacific, including Tuvalu and Marshall Islands. He is based in Asia and South Pacific and can be reached at: [email protected]