Uphill fight to shut disaster-amplifying gold mines in Indonesian park

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  • The Indonesian government has begun cracking down on illegal gold mines in a national park outside Jakarta blamed for exacerbating floods and landslides last month.
  • But local authorities say it won’t be an easy task, with only 26 of out nearly 400 of the mines shut down so far.
  • A day’s worth of mining can yield nearly the same pay as the monthly minimum wage, which officials say will continue to make it an attractive livelihood for many people.
  • The environment ministry plans to reforest the degraded areas of the national park by planting 1.2 million trees by March.

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has shut down 26 mining pits on the hilly outskirts of Jakarta, following floods and landslides last month exacerbated by environmental degradation in the area.

Flooding and landslides in early January affected some 17,200 people in the districts of Lebak and Bogor, just outside Jakarta, with officials blaming illegal mining and plantation expansion inside Gunung Halimun National Park.

President Joko Widodo visited the disaster-hit areas and instructed local officials to put an end to the forest encroachment and illegal mining, which he said benefited a handful of individuals at the expense of the safety and welfare of thousands of others.

Local authorities responded by shutting down 26 mining pits, all of them already abandoned, out of the at least 391 that the environment ministry previously identified inside the park. They also charged four people in connection with processing the illegal gold, but have yet to find them.

The environment ministry’s director-general of conservation, Wiratno, called for a zero-tolerance approach to tackle the illegal mining in the national park, which began in the mid-1970s. But Andika Hazrumy, the deputy governor of Banten province, where Lebak district is located, said shutting down the mining operations wouldn’t be easy because the industry was highly lucrative and would continue to draw in more people.

He pointed out that an illegal miner could typically extract up to 2 million rupiah ($147) worth of gold per day — about 80% of the monthly minimum wage in Lebak.

Victims of landslides and floods in Sukmajaya subdistrict, Bogor province, Indonesia, are being evacuated. Image by Anton Wisuda/Mongabay Indonesia.

The only way to effectively stop the national park from being ransacked by illegal miners, Andika said, is to cut off the supply of mercury, the key element used to extract the gold from the ore.

Doni Monardo, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), agreed that illegal mining was rampant in the national park. “In the upstream side of Halimun national park, there are hundreds of blue tents owned by illegal miners,” he said, adding that their activities had scarred the forested landscape with patches of barren earth and mining pits.

In Bogor, deputy district head Iwan Setiawan said the local government would provide job opportunities for the illegal miners, including offering them land to farm.

The environment ministry says it plans to restore the ecological function of the park by planting 1.2 million trees by March. Yuliarto Joko Putranto, the secretary of the ministry’s department for protected forests, said his office had prepared 400,000 seedlings for planting at three sites.

“We still need 800,000 more. We will import them,” he said.

 

Banner image: Blue tents where illegal miners stay dotted throughout the Halimun Salak National Park in Banten province, Indonesia. Image courtesy of BNPB Indonesia.

 

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This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment


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