Forests Trashed By Mining Not Easily Healed, Activists Say
Fidelis E Satriastanti
Even if the seemingly unchecked mining that is destroying the forests of Kalimantan were stopped today, it would still take another 30 years to fully rehabilitate the affected areas, the Mining Advocacy Network says .
Siti Maimunah, national coordinator of the network, also known as Jatam, said recovering the soil of the mined areas was not only a matter of planting trees but also required a sustained effort to clean up toxic chemicals.
“We are not just talking about a physical rehabilitation, but the need for the recovery to consider the social and economic wellbeing of the local people,” Siti said.
Mining activities in Kalimantan have been in the spotlight for a week now following a report that almost 200 mining concessionaires are operating in conservation areas, leaving massive environmental destruction in their wake.
In East Kalimantan alone there are 1,212 coal mining operations, permits for which were issued by local administrations as authorized under the Regional Autonomy Law, with an additional 32 permits issued by the central government. In neighboring South Kalimantan, there are around 400 mining operations.
The reports have also forced Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan in to reviewing the mining permits of companies operating in conservation areas.
The mining authorizations given to mining companies by the ministry contain a clause that requires them to rehabilitate the areas they work in. But those issued by local government often do not contain this requirement and this appears to be the case in the 200 mines currently active in conservation areas.
Siti said that a crucial step in the rehabilitation process was for the government to stop issuing mining authorizations, or KPs, to companies before a complete environmental assessment could be carried out.
“The system is becoming chaotic because the rehabilitation plan should be in one package with the authorizations and the companies should guarantee that they will be able to rehabilitate [the areas] as soon as possible,” she said. “Instead, the rehabilitation budget is an afterthought based on the amount of coal that can be dug out. So, there is never any serious focus on rehabilitation in the first place.”
Ari Sudianto, a deputy for environmental impact assessment at the Environment Ministry, said that as important as it was to start talking about rehabilitation, it was doubly so to fix the issuance of future mining authorizations.
“Apart from technical issues, the top priority right now concerning mining activities in Kalimantan is how to tidy up the mining authorizations,” Ari said. “Many companies cannot cover the rehabilitation costs because their [financial performances] are below par.”
Ari said these small companies often don’t use geologists.
“They tend to just dig based on their intuition and if they don’t find minerals, they just move on.”