well that was the initial plan, but apparently this become a scattered space of my inconsistent ramble and incoherent mumble. I write my heart out, I throw my anger and frustation, I jotted my hopes and dreams, I record my random thoughts here

June 7, 2011

my first writing on the local paper

Singkil-Trumon Road Development; Gift for the People or Beginning of Future Disaster?

This article is intended to respond to Sadri Ondang Jaya article published in Serambi Indonesia (27 April 2011). Aforementioned author has accused conservationist and environmentalist who try to stop the Singkil-Trumon road that will cut through sensitive peat-swamp forest as “preventingcommunities to benefit from their very ow n natural resources”

Previous article had discussed the importance of road development to encourage economic growth in the remote area of Singkil and Trumon, However, such argument about economic development were measured in a very narrow and subjective analysis. The author has indeed acknowledge the importance of Singkil peat-swamp forest in the global scale, however he has failed to take into account the possible destruction that will inevitably happen if a conventional road were to be developed on the area.

The development of Singkil-Trumon road, if not carefully managed could become the dawn of disasters for the communities living in the area. Here are the reasons why and how it will unrolled;

First, the road will be placed along the coast of peat swamp forest, and the topography of the area will require road design that demand a good degree of creativity and modern technology. The concern here will be the distance of the road from the coastline, if the road were placed closer to the coast, erosion and high tide will inevitably abrade the brand-new road and it wont take long before the piece of infrastructure scrambled away. On the other hand, if the road placed further inland, the factor that needs to be considered is the wet, soft structure of peat swamp forest. Peat swamp forest stores large amount of water within its soil, making it unstable foundation for conventional road. If such roads have to be developed in this fragile ecosystem, an unusual high-tech road design might be necessary. In both scenarios, the road were predicted to have short lifespan due to abrasion, erosion, or collapsed into the swamp.

Second, in development phase of a conventional road (that cut through a forest), one inescapable thing that will happen is land-clearing activities that will take place along the route. Just as a friendly reminder, Aceh Singkil and South Aceh district is highly susceptible to flood. As recent as February 2011, dozens of family in Bulusema affected by flash flood that cost millions rupiah in compensation. Aceh Singkil district head Makmursyah Putra pledge the communities to stop forest clearing to prevent further flood occurrence, given financial loss that arise from such incidence. Ecosystem function consists of complex interaction that is not yet fully understood by human, but as our knowledge continue to expand we know that forest clearing in one area could affect water flow, rain, drought and flood in adjacent areas. Often enough, calculations that were used to discuss the importance of road development on economic growth doesn’t take into account the risk of natural disaster (floods, landslides, drought) that will hamper development; neither does it represent the value of forest in supporting development through various ecosystem services such as water and air purification as well as pollination and pest control. The economic growth offered by road development within protected areas of Singkil swamp forest is artificial growth; the area might seems developed while in fact become extremely vulnerable to disaster (which will cause great financial loss). Flash flood is one of the natural disaster that occur in increasing frequency in Aceh Singkil and South Aceh district, with greater forest loss its only predictable that in the future the government will have to substantially expand its budget to mitigate these disasters, a rather unnecessary step given preventable nature of the disaster (on condition no further forest loss take place in this region).

Third, New road development will certainly open up access to illegal loggers. One wouldn’t argue about the local wisdom of Singkil’s communities, who have lived in adjacent to the forest and sustainably managed the area for generations, it’s the capacity of the local people to resist and fight against the mega-power of big companies that is highlighted in this point. Imagine, if the new road provide free access for powerful loggers from outside Singkil and South Aceh to come in and clear forest in massive scale, causing unprecedented disaster in the long run, which one of us will have to take the financial burden that arise from such catastrophes? Do you think the big companies will pay for the loss caused by these disasters? No. It’s the communities, and the government of Aceh Singkil and Aceh Selatan that will have to deal with it. Can we afford such predicted consequences? Is it fair for the people if the new road give free access for outsiders to rape Aceh forest and reap profits while the locals left to watch while waiting for the disaster to happen? It is undeniable that access to a new area often invites investors to come in, but without a strict regulation its destruction that will flood in not development.

Fourth, on prior article the author suggested “limited” road development. The suggestions include the width of the road, only 4.5 – 6m wide (instead of 12m highway style) lines with protected barriers to prevent communities from penetrating into the forest and harvest wood. Unfortunately, the author failed to recognize increasing intensity of human-wildlife conflict in Aceh Singkil area. The protective barrier will directly interfere with wildlife migration route and will inevitably increase human-wildlife conflict in the area. Often conservationist and environmentalist were accused “to have bigger concern on wildlife welfare than human” -- a blatant fallacious claim that comes from lack of throughout understanding or plain greed to win the so called development project – while in fact what these conservationist and environmentalist trying to do is preventing further human encroachment into wildlife habitat that will unquestionably result in greater conflict intensity. Taking into example the interaction between the farmer and population of wild boar in Aceh; back in the day farmers could have sound evening rest without having to worry about their crops, these days such things would hardly be possible given the increasing magnitude of wild-boar disturbance towards their crops. The missing link in this story is the tiger, which historically has been the natural predator and therefore keeping boar population under control. With escalating human-tiger conflict and habitat encroachment, the number of tiger has dropped low and with it has allow number of wild boar to rise. A conflict that lead to another conflict. Eventually, although conservationist and environmentalist might appear to stand against development, what they are trying to do is encouraging development by preventing these future disasters and conflict prior to its occurrence.

Fifth, One would like to remind the communities about the history of Jeuram-Takengon road, a relatively new route that receive strong resistance throughout its development phase. WALHI have filed lawsuit against development of the road through Banda Aceh district court, which later rejected in mid-2004. WALHI then appealed to Supreme Court and loses the case in August 2008. Opposition to the road development materialized due to the potential impact that could occur, nevertheless the road development still take place. Within the last few month, the news about landslides on aforementioned road starts to pop-up in news media, covering the stories on people getting trapped on landslide point and major interruption on commodity transport. Such “disaster” were predictable and preventable, it’s a pity if there’s nothing we can learn from this.

Sixth, Development of the road on this area would be a blatant violation of the current law. The area is located within protected areas, holding the prestigious status of wildlife reserve. Law no.5/1990 on natural resource and ecosystem conservation clearly prohibit any activities that modify the natural landscape of protected areas and potentially interrupt the livelihood of both plants and wildlife’s. This status were enforced through establishment of Leuser Ecosystem as National Strategic Area in Law no.27/2007 and Government Regulation no.26/2008 on National Spatial Planning. Conventional road development will conspicuously alter the natural landscape and violate current legislation. In Government Regulation no.27/1999 on Environmental Impact Assessment stated the precautionary principal on the potential impact of an activities that will take place in the area based on the benefits versus likely destruction that could arise. If the negative impact from the activities have higher tendency to happen compared to the benefits it might bring, then the activities are considered environmentally improper.

Every stakeholder might need to consider another solution for the allegedly poverty issue of the “isolated” communities in the area. Road development is clearly not a panacea, neither does plantations and land clearing. Referring to the ancient Acehnese wisdom, “if a man fallen into a river and under the threat of drowning, do we drain the refer or we simply pull him out?” Maybe it would be wise to consider relocation potential within the frame of long-term solution, for safety and well being of the communities itself. Although it seems controversial and sensitive issue, this is not an absurd idea. Leuser Development Program (LDP) and Leuser International Foundation (LIF) had a success story negotiating with the government and local communities to willingly moved from Naca (Which is part of wildlife corridor between singkil swamp and bengkung basin), given appropriate compensation. It is not ludicrous if one imagines similar resolution could be offered to the communities living within the planned road route.

Soma says the individuals and organization opposing road development in protected areas have the intention to prevent local communities accessing what is to be their right, prohibiting the population from becoming wealthy. This kind of opinion is actually underestimating the capability of the Acehnese to become developed without sacrificing their forest. Aceh have the potential to advance like Japan, a country with real commitment to protect their forest. Due to early realization on the value of the forest for their economy (cheapest water filtration technology, air purification, and a livelihood on its own right) the Japanese put down a real commitment to protect their forest, and once the commitment put in place the population were forced to get creative in developing their economy by other means than chopping down their forest. Aceh still have relatively large forest cover and have a good potential to become one healthy developed country like Japan. Now we have the decision in our hands, would we like to be prosper like Japan or exploited like Papua?

originally posted here: http://m.serambinews.com/news/view/55502/singkil-trumon-bencana-masa-depan

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