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Jakarta Poaches on Farmland Waters

Volunteers cleaning up the Cisadane river. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Volunteers cleaning up the Cisadane river. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

JAKARTA, May 19 2012 (IPS) - The 18,000 litres of clean water that Jakarta consumes per second are expected to hit 26,000 litres by 2015. The solution? A 54-km stretch of toll road cut through prime paddy land to access the water resources of this salubrious hill district.

Jakarta’s administrators expect the capital city to be a show window for its efforts in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including those for water supply and sanitation.

- ‘Young people in Sukabumi district are concerned about the environmental deterioration deteriorating environment around them, caused by industries replacing the farming economy,” says Ila Ila Mardhatillah, an activist for the ‘Our Rivers, Our Life’ campaign that is now focused on saving the Cisadane river.


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The government, by stated policy, is looking to private-public partnerships (PPP) to come up with solutions. For their part, water companies like PT PAM Jaya – which predict a 44 percent increase in Jakarta’s water demand by 2015 – want relaxed rules on water projects.

But, a conflict over water resources is emerging between local people in Sukabumi (translates as Happy Land in Sundanese) on one side and water companies with contracts to supply water to Jakarta on the other.

Trucks fetching sparkling mountain water may help quench the thirst of Jakarta’s 10 million people but little thought has been given to rice cultivation on 2,700 sq km of land that must be sacrificed for the project, or the future of the 2.7 million residents of Sukabumi district.

Located at a cloud-kissing altitude of 600 metres, that gives it a cool 25 degrees Celsius average temperature, Sukabumi was favoured by the colonial Dutch to locate important institutions. Today Sukabumi boasts ecotourism activities like whitewater rafting and wildlife watching.

“Temperatures may warm up to around 36-38 degrees Celsius once the road project is completed, and that is bound to affect the existing vegetation,” says Resit Rozer, naturalist and director of the Sukabumi-based Cikananga Animal Rescue Centre.

A rise in temperature is sure to affect the agriculture that, for centuries, provided livelihoods to Sukabumi’s women who are responsible for 80 percent of the rice cultivation and for the stalls that are put up in traditional markets to sell the district’s abundant fruits and vegetables.

Lukmanul Hakim, head of pollution control at the Sukabumi environmental office, avers that temperatures have been rising rapidly. “While 33 degrees Celsius is now considered normal, just five years ago, the average temperature was 24 – 27 degrees Celsius,” he said.

“Once the toll road is complete traffic volumes will increase drastically and so will the ambient temperature,” he added.

Ijay (one name), a Sukabumi resident, said his village is no longer the cool and clean place it used to be. “It’s much hotter and more polluted now.”

In the coastal areas of Sukabumi, fish farmers have been complaining of freshwater fish stocks perishing because of sea water ingress.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth report, a delay in the wet season in Indonesia and a temperature increase beyond 2.5 degrees Celsius can substantially drop rice yields, while sea-level rise is likely to decrease fisheries production.

“With a coastline of some 80,000 km, 17,000 islands and 240 million inhabitants, the impact of sea-level rise is of the highest concern to Indonesia,” the U.N. report said.

“Further rise in temperature in Sukabumi will undoubtedly destroy the local agro-based economy,” said Resit. “This will, of course, allow corporations waiting to exploit Sukabumi’s natural resources to come in,” Resit said.

It does not inspire confidence that the developer of the toll road is none other than the Bakrie Group whose gas drilling activity was responsible for the mudflow disaster in Sidoarjo that resulted in thousands of families losing their homes and farms in East Java, last year.

Bakrie, however, boasted of its commitment to the environment. “We always stick to the green concept,” Harya Mitra Hidayat, who heads the toll road project, told IPS.

Harya is candid about his company looking for side opportunities. “We do not construct toll roads only. We also build business infrastructure to gain added value.”

Extraction of water in Sukabumi is now in full swing, including by the state-owned drinking water company, PDAM, which has a large presence in the adjacent Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park.

“PDAM already serves two cities, Sukabumi and Bogor, whose populations are steadily increasing,” Agus Mulyana, an executive with the voluntary Indonesian Young Foresters (RMI), told IPS.

There are at least 200 enterprises, most of them unregistered, engaged in extracting water from the national park, which extends over 100,000 hectares and counts among its treasures gold deposits, galena and timber.

New regulations, consonant with the PPP concept, allow private companies to exploit water resources and this is taking a toll on the health of the park, considered vital for life in the surrounding areas that include Jakarta.

Excessive water mining has already caused water flow in the Cisadane river to drop from 70 cubic metres per second to 35 cu m per second over the last 15 years, according to RMI.

Several species of fish and prawn endemic in the river have dwindled or vanished altogether. “Family nutrition has been greatly affected in these parts,” Ratna Sari, a homemaker in Wates Jaya village, told IPS.

RMI encourages youth to help protect the river by planting fast-growing hardwood trees such as ‘sengon’ and ‘jabon’, and join programmes to keep the river healthy.

“But, such initiatives are no match for the corporations,” said Ila Mardhatillah, an RMI activist for the ‘Our Rivers, Our Life’ campaign that involves Myanmar (also Burma), Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos.

With government backing, big corporations are now encircling the area trying to exploit its water, minerals, tourism and farming potential, Nani Saptistani, a local RMI activist told IPS.

She pointed to government policy requiring farmers to switch to hybrid seeds following a national campaign to boost paddy production and create a 10 million tonne surplus by 2014.

“Hybrid paddy yields 11 tonnes per hectare, much higher than the local paddy variety that results in 4.5 tonnes per ha,” says Indonesia’s agriculture minister Suswono.

But hybrids present many problems for Sukabumi’s rice growers who now produce 276,800 tonnes of husked rice annually with a surplus of 135,000 tonnes, according to figures maintained by the local agriculture office. “Hybrid paddy grows faster, but farmers need to buy the seeds and also use more fertilisers and pesticides that are contaminating Sukabumi’s water and environment,” said Nani.

“If the pressure on water continues at the present pace, farming will fail and this tiny spot, where we live in harmony with nature, will be gone forever and Sukabumi will turn into hell,” Nani predicts.

*This article is one of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

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