North Penajam Paser, East Kalimantan. Hundreds of villagers in the North Penajam Paser district on Friday returned home and opened their blockade on the Trans-Kalimantan Highway, but threatened to stage a bigger action if their demands were not met by Monday.
On Thursday, the villagers blockaded the highway over complaints that the section of road passing through their area has still not been paved.
The protest on Thursday by residents of Labangka village, along the 41-kilometer stretch of highway linking East and South Kalimantan, caused a massive traffic jam that lasted a few hours.
“We will return if the government doesn’t listen to us,” Labangan Atan, the Labangka village chief, said on Friday. “We’ll wait until Monday. If there is no response by then, we will return.”
Labangan said residents had, for the past two months, called on the authorities to pave the stretch of road running through their area, because the dust raised by vehicles was causing health problems among the villagers.
“We’ve reminded them repeatedly to lay down a layer of asphalt as soon as possible, but they still haven’t done it,” he said. “A lot of villagers are now suffering from respiratory problems, so we have no choice but to protest by blocking the road.”
The blockade began at 8 a.m., and was lifted three hours later following talks between the villagers, police and the local public works office.
Labangan said the authorities promised to pave the three-kilometer stretch of highway before the end of the week. However, he warned that their failure to do so would prompt the villagers to block the road again.
“This is not the first time we’ve had to resort to this kind of action,” he said. “We first blockaded the road two days earlier, but there was no response from the authorities that time. Only after we did it a second time did they take notice.”
Joniansyah, head of the roads and bridges unit at the East Kalimantan Public Works Office, called the villagers’ blockade regrettable and said that the road was due to be paved but there was a delay because of the Idul Fitri holiday at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“What they did inconvenienced hundreds of people,” he said. “They should have just waited. We were indeed running behind schedule because of the holiday, but we’ll definitely finish the paving before next week.”
Hilmasyah, a truck driver who was among those stuck in the traffic jam, said his entire shipment of fresh fruit and vegetables was ruined because of the delay.
“I was supposed to have reached Balikpapan earlier in the day, but because of the blockade I won’t make it there today,” he said on Thursday. “The produce was supposed to be delivered and sold, so I’ve definitely lost money.”
Roadwork is being done along stretches of the Trans-Kalimantan Highway, which has fallen into heavy disrepair.