Friday, August 30, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part X

Part X: What We Talk About When We Talk About the Acehnese

I think one of the hardest things to understand about demographics in Aceh has to do with the definitions of terms used.  IDPs are “internally displaced persons,” but sometimes the meaning of “internally” is a little unclear, and the “displacement” can be voluntary or forced or have happened hundreds of years ago.  So for my own clarification, since I’m not a migration and refugee expert, I asked myself who is living in Aceh Timur now, especially around Simpang Jernih, and would I and people like me call them “locals,” “residents,” “long-time community members”—as opposed to “refugees from another province,” “transients,” “squatters,” “prospectors,” etc.  The term “indigenous,” I think, isn’t helpful here.  The Acehnese themselves are considered an indigenous group, the majority having migrated to the province from Malaysia more than 3,000 years ago..

So let’s just drop the word “indigenous” from our conversations about who has a right to work and farm and raise a family here, shall we?

But looking at who is and has been here is helpful to understanding Aceh Timur’s current precarious position as a potential provider of enormous wealth to the outside world while simultaneously having the quality of life of its “indigenous” population undermined.

 The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Populations provides an interesting overview of Aceh’s history and traditions, as well as the repeated attempts by many world powers to capitalize on its resources without consideration for those who lived there.  Prior to the establishment of the (Islamic) Sultanate of Aceh in around the 1300s the area was Hindu.  While the Dutch conquered all of Indonesia, Aceh remained a powerful and independent state until the 1940s when Acehnese rebels, who had resisted the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, then sided with the new Indonesian republic that fought the return of the Dutch between 1945 and 1949. But the negotiation with the Dutch for Indonesian independence called for a centralized state that was dominated by Java.  Aceh continued to work (and fight) for its own independence, and in 1959 a truce that “special status” to Aceh ended the conflict, “but resentment over the limited nature of Aceh’s ‘special status’ persisted, especially after the authoritarian General Suharto sidelined, and eventually replaced, President Sukarno in 1966.”

Does this sound eerily familiar?

Oh, it gets even more so.

The tensions came to a head in the 1970s, when Indonesian central government authorized the exploitation of Aceh’s natural resources by multinational oil and gas companies, with the profits going mainly to Jakarta, and not Aceh, which remained one of the least developed provinces in Indonesia. In addition to losing land – and often being inadequately compensated – the Acehnese saw most of the employment and other benefits linked to the exploitation of ‘their’ resources going to the Javanese and other non-Acehnese. A new rebel movement (GAM – the Free Aceh Movement) arose in that decade, and proclaimed Aceh Independence in 1976.” And we all know how well that worked out.

Can you now see why the transmigration movement was (and remains) so bitterly unpopular???

Suharto’s fall in 1998 resulted in Aceh’s ability to provide evidence of mass war crimes and demand a referendum on independence. Few politicians in Jakarta were willing, however, to consider Acehnese demands for independence “for fear it would encourage similar demands in other parts of the archipelago.  Clashes between well-armed GAM fighters and the army and police escalated, and successive governments in Jakarta authorized more military operations that resulted in further civilian casualties, and large-scale displacement of the population into camps.”

Although there were token displays of pacification in the early 2000’s the Indonesian military (TNI) practiced continued repression.  Fighting happened in the mountains and remote areas where GAM fighters knew the area, could resupply their forces, and could practice ambushes.  But those areas were the locations of  the most fertile coffee and cocoa plantations, and home to the most fragile of plant and animal species.  Thousands of families saw the fighting happen literally in their back yards, and it destroyed everything in its path.  A great majority of the destruction happened in—you guessed it—Aceh Timur. I remember hearing about the separatist movement being brutalized right up to the tsunami, and ever after it. Aceh was all over the news then. Jakarta had pulled out the stops; Acehnese were dying by the hundreds, just like what had happened in East Timor.  Then came the tsunami, killing 168,000, and forgive me for saying this but you could practically hear the champagne corks popping in Jakarta—at last, nature has taken care of our problem.

Acehnese are now the minority in Aceh, comprising less than 50% of the population.  In theory, they should also be able to have access to the wealth created by the exploitation of the province’s oil and gas resources, as the 2005 peace agreement is supposed to result in Aceh’s authorities keeping 70 per cent of that wealth.”

As we have seen, this has not been the case.  It is unclear whether the “autonomy powers of the Acehnese minority will allow them to resist Jakarta’s constitutional powers in areas where their interests conflict, such as with regard to logging, mining or palm oil plantations, or even the transmigrasi programme, which has been maintained on a smaller scale by the central government. Probably not.

This is why when well-meaning outside entities talk about removal of people from their homes in Aceh Timur because they are damaging to the protected forest, and allowing “cooperatives” and corporations to reap all the grants, projects, and benefits of the area and its resources, I wish there was an enormous, powerful celestial megaphone that could just scream at them until they all shut up and understood what exactly it was they were saying.

Next: Back to the Aceh Village Survey, last part

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part XIa

Part Xia: Synopsis of the 2006 Aceh Village Survey: Conflict, Reconstruction and Aceh Timur

 For the past few days I have been curled up with a copy of the Kenkamatan (District) Development Program’s 156-page Aceh Village Survey, conducted in 2006 and published in 2007. Although I highly recommend some parts as a cure-all for insomnia, I have to say that as a research document, it’s quite easy to follow and through with regard to its topics’ scope. The research team consisted of members from World Bank (the donor)’s Social Development Unit, the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Tunas Aceh Research Institute (TARI) and enlisted many Indonesian field workers to administer questionnaires to residents from all sub-districts—no small feat in itself.

As you remember, I was interested to see if information gathered from individuals included personal thoughts or feelings about where they and their families were now and where they saw themselves in the future. Sort of a psychosocial question, I know, but one that I think is as important as, say, a question about what an individual thinks is the greatest “need” in a community and then can pick from a list of 3 to 4 very general things.

While the survey came close a couple of times to touching on this subjective information, it obviously had bigger economic and socio/political fish to fry in 2006.

But Aceh Timur is mentioned specifically several times in the document, sometimes in quite interesting ways, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In a nutshell, the researchers wanted to find out how the residents of the province were doing after the tsunami and after the signing of the Peace Accord in 2005. They also wanted to find out the extent of the physical damage according to those who lived where the damage happened. Unlike other large-scale initiatives, this report gave equal weight to areas and populations that were affected by conflict as opposed to the tsunami, and noted that many areas such as Aceh Jaya had been devastated by both. But they posited that each disaster resulted in different needs, and different attention was paid to those needs. The report was created, remember, after most of the tsunami relief money had been allocated. I sensed an eagerness, if not a bias, to emphasize that even though tsunami victims had been reasonably well-attended by both their government and foreign aid agencies, conflict-affected areas fared far worse.

 And Aceh Timur, as we always knew, was one of those areas.

 22,300 people were interviewed, with an emphasis placed on an equal number of women, men, youth, farmers, elders, religious and traditional leaders. Education representatives and government officials were also included, as well as students and health professionals. The six assessment sections included a Social Assessment, which I was eager to read. But we will have to discuss that in Part II.

Something I am going to have to ask the World Bank about is this statement because I don’t believe the figures are accurate:

On average, conflict caused 19.5 percent of damage, natural disasters 38.6 percent, and lack of maintenance 41.9 percent of the total damage reported (a ratio of about 1:2:2).

I don’t know what that means, exactly.

 “Lack of maintenance” could be anything, from pre-tsunami conditions to continued lack of maintenance during the conflict, which the report seems to at times forget was 30 years long. It was a generation long. It’s not my feeling that people were afraid to return to their homes. It’s that they had nothing to return to. And no way to get there: roads that were in horrible condition before the conflict had just disappeared.  Travel was also dangerous because GAM and TNI controlled the roads and you had to pay one side or the other side to use them.  Believe me, no one smelled like a rose in this conflict. When I first went to Aceh after the tsunami until well after the Peace Accord, there were curfews; people were being killed, kidnapped and subjected to all types of violence on both sides.  It really didn’t matter about the condition of the road.  People weren’t afraid to return home.  They were just afraid.

I also think that the tsunami did cause more physical damage. I AM NOT SO SURE ABOUT THIS BUT ON THE WHOLE I AGREE.  It also caused much emotional damage, but the conflict was 30 years long, and all that time people suffered im[prisonment, torture, loss of family members, ceaselessly for thirty years.   Constant bombardment and destruction and emotional crippling for thirty years. You can’t look at that in terms of percentages. This report, like Steven Shewfelt’s thesis, really underplays the severe trauma experienced by this population by spending very little time talking to people about mental health issues because the first responses they give is that “everything’s fine.”  A population that is consistently demoralized day in and day out and given no support by the entity that is supposed to look after it IS affected, even if it says it is not. Very few NGOs address this, and none did at the time, as far as I know.  Even today, the government puts very little into preparing and supporting social workers, even on the mainland. Mental health issues are seen as the luxury of an elite class. Tens of millions of dollars poured in to assists victims of the tsunami, many of whom were corrupt and abused the funds, while conflict victims received nothing, and then were cast aside by GAM, the very movement they supported.

Further on, the report states that Aceh Jaya and Aceh Timur have the highest damaged infrastructure (Aceh Timur 73% and Aceh Jaya 80%); Aceh Timur, Bener Meriah, and Nagan Raya show the highest overall conflict-related damage. Only 10.1% of the damage has been repaired. [my italics]. This is not surprising, since these were conflict affected zones and out of public scrutiny, it did not hurt the government’s image to keep ignoring these areas.

The report goes on to state that “Several districts reported high levels of infrastructure damage. The areas that reported the highest levels of infrastructure damage due to conflict are Aceh Timur, Bener Meriah, and Nagan Raya.”  [As an aside, I also  know that Sawang  and North Aceh had a lot of damage and they didn't give up till long after the peace accord was signed .In fact they could still be fighting in the jungles—did any of the resports or researchers pursue that possibility?  There used to be Al Qaeda training camps in Aceh—do we know if there are still there?  I wonder how much of the conflict is really over.]

So Aceh Timur had both severe agricultural AND infrastructure damage, but this was never addressed by either the recovery agencies or government departments. Poor Aceh Jaya was “fortunate” in that although there was much fighting in the highlands that caused incredible destruction, the poor district was also the hardest hit by the tsunami, so it was able to receive significant aid for “tsunami relief.” However, every nearly happy ending in Aceh has a sinister twist: very few families or people in need ever received that aid—the vast majority of it, despite infrastructure and housing improvements, was squandered by corrupt officials and international hucksters—the district had one of the highest rates of corruption during the reconstruction.

The report states that the second most expensive reconstruction effort, behind housing, was what was needed “ to return land to productive use, followed by repairs to, or replacement of, roads. Aceh Utara, Pidie, Bireuen, Aceh Timur, and Aceh Besar have the highest shares of total costs needed for reconstruction/replacement of infrastructure.” [Another aside: of those houses that were built, the majority were so poorly constructed that they collapsed within a year.]

And yet no road reconstruction has happened in Aceh Timur. Much reconstruction has happened in neighboring Aceh Tamiang . . . because of the need for heavy machinery to get to the palm oil plantations that aren’t supposed to be expanding..
One of the things that I’d like to speak with Steven Shewfelt about is the complexity involved in reporting on “IDPs” in Aceh Timur before and after the tsunami and the conflict. This report also spends a great deal of time discussing people who were displaced by their villages during both events, and the relative ease/difficulty of returning. This report and Steven’s dissertation seem to both conclude that ex-combatants returning to their communities did not elicit any specific negative feelings on the part of the community, but I don’t think that this is really the point, or the question to ask. I think that displacement from the conflict and return to “places of origin” is difficult to assess. Some Acehnese just could not physically get home—either there was no way, or there was no home left. Most, however, did have some family and returned to some part of the area that had belonged to their ancestors.

The report states that “in villages that are hosting both conflict and tsunami IDPs, conflict IDPs are perceived to be considerably worse off economically than are tsunami IDPs.” While I agree with the last statement, there’s something about how people have been moved about in Indonesia that isn’t really touched upon by either Steven’s assessment of post-conflict IDPs and this report.

The Transmigration program, initiated under the Dutch and continued by Jakarta, had as its stated purpose the transferring of landless poor in urban areas to less populated areas of the country,to alleviate poverty by providing land and new opportunities to generate income for poor landless settlers. It would also benefit the nation as a whole by increasing the utilization of the natural resources of the less-populous islands.”

The majority of people in this program are Javanese, and a majority of this group were moved to Aceh—a big mistake.. “Many Indonesians viewed this action “as a part of an effort by the Java-based Indonesian Government to extend greater economic and political control over other regions, by moving in people with closer ties to Java and loyalty to the Indonesian state.” That’s just not true. Maybe many Indonesians did believe this but I am sure this was not the government’s plan or they would have sent a completely different type of settler from Java. Those who arrived were poor, uneducated, with no applicable skills and who did not even speak the language. It’s hard to see them as capable of wielding any economic or political control when they couldn’t even read the street signs.

But the Javanese are very resourceful, and extremely hard workers, and I’m sure that this created extremely negative feelings on the part of many Acehnese.

About 25% of the population we work with in Simpang Jernih sub-district is Javanese. Part of the little survey we’re going to ask JMD’s field staff to implement includes questions on where everyone came from, how long they’ve been there, and maybe some more personal questions about how they think their government treats them.

The report states that “While a return to conflict appears remote, the lingering residue of the conflict and the potential for renewed conflict remain real.” This is true although perhaps not for the reasons outlined in the report. In areas such as Aceh Timur, ex-combatants still feel and behave as ex-combatants because they have not been given any reason by the provincial government (or GAM) to feel that they have been included in either decision making processes or compensation initiatives. The Aceh Reintegration Board (BRA, Badan Reintegrasi Aceh ) was established in 2006, and was overseen by Indonesia's national development planning agency, BAPPENAS. The compensation program that was developed and initiated was flawed, partial, and incomplete (as was, unfortunately, East Timor’s compensation program also.). BRA folded. Some ex-combatants (the former governor, for example) received political positions and government stipends. But many received bupkus. The question of “reintegration,” then, for many living hand to mouth in the hinterlands with fewer actual rights than non-combatants, seemed, and still seems, laughable. But if you want to read the idealistic version of this program, go to the Conciliation Resources Page, on “the Challenges of Reintegration in Aceh” by Lina Frodin.

Hint: there are many articles on Aceh’s peace process on this site; the most recent, however, is 2008. Kind of tells you how it’s going, doesn’t it? Or how quickly international interest wanes, and national interest is only too happy to let sleeping ex-combatants lie . . . in the mud and the hills of the places nobody goes. But many ex-combatants have told me, and others, that they are re-arming themselves and one day will rise again.

Communities realize that the successful implementation of the Helsinki MoU is crucial to their lives and prosperity in the next few years. I have a problem with the Village Survey’s assumption that the rural poor, the rural starving, the rural marginalized are interested in any part of the MoU, successfully implemented or otherwise that did not have to do with the government’s promise to give them money, land and training. Existing efforts to support the post-conflict peacebuilding process should therefore continue,” says the report. When did they start? “Such efforts should include ongoing socialization regarding developments in the peace process, improving the availability of public services and explaining how these can benefit communities, equipping local leaders with accurate and up-to-date information on reintegration programs, and boosting ongoing efforts to improve security.” And all this, without keeping the promise of money, land and training, would help smallholders in Aceh Timur and other marginalized communities HOW???

One of the things JMD wrestles with on a daily basis is making it viscerally important for people living in the forest to love and respect it, and have all their social and economic actions stem from that love and respect. That’s why we need to work really hard with our cocoa farmers to help them realize a very quick profit and a substantial increase in production, because that is the bottom line and no amount of didactic conservation-speak is going to make someone take 2 months to prevent erosion because it’s good for the forest. They MAY do it because they’ve been shown that this produces money in their pockets and food for the kids. So “ongoing socialization” can be roughly translated as, well, blah, blah, blah.

That’s enough for one day.

Bottom line: lots of good information about how Aceh fared with respect to conflict and tsunami damage, and how little has been done to repair that damage.
[this post was revised slightly on 8/30/13]


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part VIII

Part VIII: A Letter to the Leuser Foundation

I was reviewing my notes that I scribbled down at the beginning of this exercise a few weeks ago, to remind myself what I wanted to touch on as background for showing potential donors how important it is to help create sustainable stallholder coffer production in Aceh Timur.

Here’s what was on various cocktail napkins, shopping lists, and scrap paper:


Conflict affected

Conditions: violence, poverty

5th anniversary of Aceh documentary

Simpang Jernih: the Wild West

Poorest, most dangerous
Guns in from Thailand through SPJ
Living in Leuser

Save Ecosystem

Need Conservation reporter  ?Jakarta Post

April 2013—why isn’t there a story now?

When this forest is gone, there’s nothing left

If you can decipher that, I think it sums up every obstacle the area faces, and everything we want to address.  Ecosystem, violence, poverty, lack of interest from outside.

Just so we’re clear.

Remember the article in the Sun (who, by the way, have not answered my request re: a story on the tsunami 10 years later—I must write them again)?  Called “Keep Off the Grasslands,” it was an interview with Mark Dowie, whose new book about “conservation refugees” explores how international NGOs unwittingly (and sometimes consciously) conspire with multi-national and agribusiness, mining, petroleum companies to remove indigenous people from their traditional homes, believing that they damage the protected forest, while simultaneously accepting large donations from these corporations to either broker deals with host governments or oversee “green” projects.  In Aceh, for example, the Leuser Foundation is working with the Acehnese government to “re-zone” protected forest and call it “Production forest,” and that’s pretty much the ball game for the small, rural communities that live on the margins of the forest and try to subsist there.  Not to mention the incredible loss of plant and animal species—the very thing that these large conservation organizations warn about in all their very expensive campaigns.  I just don’t get it.

I’d been wading through their website(s) and have discovered that the Leuser Ecosystem has many mansions . . . most of which, including the Foundation’s, are “under construction,” created by other groups, not updated, and in general tend to contradict each other.  I suppose it’s this way for any enormous and incredibly important land mass (I can’t imagine, for example, the number of websites, public and private, devoted to the Amazon or the Grand Canyon), but I did think that the “official” website would have some sort of regular press release/update page.  Sigh.
So I decided to write a letter to the Leuser Foundation . . . before I realized they’d just do the electronic version of crumpling it into a little ball and send it sailing across their air-conditioned office. 

Dear Aceh-based Leuser Foundation staff:

I’m writing on behalf of Yayasan Jembatan Masa Depan, which has been providing sustainable livelihoods services and programs to people in remote natural disaster and conflict-affected areas of Aceh since 2005.  JMD is one of the only local community service NGOs in the province. They have been working in Aceh Timur District, specifically Simpang Jernih sub-district, since 2009, assisting women cocoa farmers improve production, raise their standard of living, and provide positive role models for citizens still suffering the aftereffects and consequences of the 30-year conflict.  As you know, much of Aceh Timur’s land mass falls within the Leuser Ecosystem.  Our current three-year initiative involves developing a cultivation, harvest, and marketing model that is environmentally sensitive and sustainable for generations to come.

People living on the forest buffer face many challenges including large-scale agribusiness and mining operating in “production” areas of the forest, poaching and illegal logging which is sometimes encouraged by outside interests (and necessary for survival), and environmental regulations that prohibit indigenous and long term residents’  use of the forest while promoting large-scale destruction by palm oil and mining interests.

In order to continue to help develop programs that fit the interests, desires, and needs of future generations, JMD is looking for whatever information is available from our larger colleagues with regards to any sociological, demographic, cultural, or historic studies conducted in Aceh Timur and/or Simpang Jernih sub-district.  Our agriculture field officers and community development staff have gathered much information over the years, but a deep dive into the daily lives and individual aspirations of this group has not been undertaken by us to the extent that it will be possible to understand what matters most to people in East Aceh, especially young people who are poised to either leave the district or remain with less than positive options.

It was with great interest, then, that we read on your web page a 2008 announcement that was updated in July 2013:

How will the people of Aceh and North Sumatra directly benefit from the conservation of the Leuser Ecosystem ?

In addition to the benefit from environmental services, local groups and companies will be able to participate in the sustainable utilisation of buffer zones within the Leuser Ecosystem. Because of the size of the LE many different models are being used, taking full account of local norms and customs. In certain cases limited extraction of forestry resources can be supported, in other cases community forestry is being encouraged, fishery rights might be issued, and tourism is being promoted in areas of potential interest. On a larger scale, industries such as fertilizer plants, oil extraction operations, and gas liquification complexes, all of which employ many people, will continue to receive the supply of water they need to carry on their operations. (

I have two requests:

1.       Please forward us any information you have regarding the model being used for Aceh Timur, and how you went about finding information on “local norms and customs,” as well as providing a report of what those local norms and customs are, and with whom we can speak regarding this survey.

2.       Please let us know if any part of the Leuser Ecosystem lying within Aceh Timur is protected forest. The maps indicate that there may be no protected forest in this area, although other websites refer to Leuser as the “Leuser Protected Ecosystem.” 

The survival of these small, isolated communities depends on the wisest and best use of the natural resource that has been their home for generations. It is up to agencies who want to assist in this endeavour to understand completely the demographics, culture, traditions and future plans of the forest residents before designing projects.

Thanks so much for your time and assistance.
Sara Henderson, President
Building Bridges to the Future Foundation, Inc.

I think I’d have as much chance of being kissed by a Sumatran tiger as getting an answer, so I haven’t sent that one yet.

I’m trying to refresh my memory as to who founded The Leuser Ecosystem, and whether Leuser and other organizations actually do have “deals” with the Indonesian government in which “ecologically friendly” palm oil farming and mining are allowed to take place in exchange for big donations to their agencies, as described in Dpwie’s interview/book.

I mean, when is the line drawn, and by whom, between subsistence hunting/farming and excessive/harmful use of the resource by local residents?  I can sputter and rave all I want, but in practical terms, there has to be a definitive answer to this . . . doesn’t there?

Right before I went to bed, I found this Leuser project list on their website, and seeing Line #3, I guess I got one of my answers.  Sadly.

Past and Current Projects

If this is too small to see, #3 is "Project: Protecting the Leuser Ecosystem.  Source of Funding: Exxon/Mobil Indonesia. Year: 2005-2012."

Below is from their webpage: the history of how Leuser was started: by an international interest looking for oil and minerals.

The conservation history of Leuser
The efforts to conserve Leuser started in the 1920’s. Back then a geology expert from the Netherlands named F.C. Ven Heurn explored the prevalence of oil and mineral resources in Aceh. The local customary leaders became worried about the preservation of Leuser, as they considered the Leuser Mountain a holy and sacred place.

Van Heurn didn’t find the minerals he was searching for and instead he started to help the local customary leaders (the Datoek and Oeloebalang) to persuade the Dutch Colonial Government to grant Leuser a wildlife sanctuary status. After discussions with the Netherlands Commission for Conservation of Nature in August 1928, it was proposed to assert conservation status to an area stretching from Singkil (upstream of the Simpang Kiri River) in the south, along the Bukit Barisan mountain towards the direction of the Tripa River valley and the coastal swamp in northern Meulaboh. On the 6th of February 1934 a customary community meeting was held in Tapaktuan that resulted in “the Tapaktuan Declaraton”. This was the first formal agreement concerning the conservation of Leuser.

And so it would stand to reason that Leuser would be making agreements with the government to allow incursions into an area it helped to protect, but always wanted to see turn a profit.

Things are starting to fit together.

Next: An overview of the 2006 Aceh Village Survey commissioned by the World Bank

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part VII (and we're nowhere near done)

Part VII: Musical Rainforests: When is a protected hectare not a protected hectare?

On May 22, 2013 the Jakarta Globe published an article that included an aerial March 27, 2012 photo of large sections of peatland in Rawa Tripa (the area we’ve been discussing) being burned.  Highlights from the article are all too familiar . . . but with the added entertainment value of government officials trying to explain when a rainforest isn’t a rainforest, and why it’s the other governor’s fault, and why we’re all just bad at math.

[highlighted areas and comments in brackets are mine.]


An aerial view of burning peatland in Rawa Tripa in Aceh is seen in this handout photo taken March 27, 2012. (Reuters Photo)

The Forestry Ministry has denied claims by several environmental groups that 1.2 million hectares of protected forest in Aceh will be cleared if the province’s proposed spatial planning draft is approved.In a statement issued on Tuesday, Hadi Daryanto, the ministry’s secretary general said the draft proposed by the administration of Governor Zaini Abdullah only called for a change to the current spatial plan to allow up to 119,000 hectares of currently protected forest to be designated for commercial use.  [Oh, is that all?] He added that the team evaluating the proposal for the central government had recommended that only 26,000 hectares be approved for commercial forestry and 79,000 hectares for other use.  [Other use?????] “So the accusations by these nongovernmental organizations that Aceh will lose 1.2 million hectares of protected forest is not correct, and the figure being touted must be clarified,” Hadi said. His remarks echoed similar comments by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the government task force on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), who said in a statement over the weekend that his team had pored over existing data and documents and not found any evidence of plans to convert up to 1.2 million hectares of forest.“The figure for forest conversion proposal is consistent with what was stated by the Aceh regional government and the Forestry Ministry,” Kuntoro said, as quoted by the environmental news portal attributed the figure of 1.2 million hectares to the difference between the total forest cover proposed by the previous governor, Irwandi Yusuf, and that proposed by Zaini.Irwandi’s plan would have seen 2.75 million hectares of forest protected, or 855,000 hectares more than the 1.895 million hectares designated in the 2000 spatial plan. Zaini’s plan, however, would leave 1.79 million hectares protected, or 105,000 hectares less than the 2000 plan.  [If you understood that, you’ve had more coffee today than I have.]

The difference of 105,000 hectares comes from the amount of land that the evaluation team is currently recommending be approved for commercial use. More than 1 million people across the globe have signed an online petition demanding the Indonesian government scrap Zaini’s proposed spatial plan, based on the argument that it would lead to the clearing of 1.2 million hectares of previously protected forest. Although the plan appears to contradict the central government’s recent decision to extend a moratorium on clearing primary and peat forests, [which the March 2012 photo shows has never been in effect] the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh’s decision to overturn its own deforestation ban, which was introduced at the local level six years ago.

This wouldn’t be such awful news if we did not see and read time after time that there has been no compliance, ever, with laws regarding protected forests.  It’s all a parlor game.  A corporation that wants to enter and destroy a forest may do so.  The government will not support or train forest rangers, and it barely funds its own ministry of environmental protection. Forest rangers who are supported and trained with international funds are sent back into their own communities to tell their starving relatives and ex-combatants who have been frozen out of any government assistance: don’t poach, don’t cut trees, and don’t grow marijuana or we’ll have to arrest you. Guess whose families are real popular in those villages?  Guess how much government support they get? It just all gives me a dreadful headache.  The international community cannot just do this remotely in some boardroom.  It’s a wild and dangerous place, the forest.  And it should be.  So we all assume that everyone who says they are implementing good environmental practices are doing so.  And every foreign aid organization assures its donors (and the public) that its people on the ground are fine and healthy and compliant because they received a written report telling them so.

Do I think we should all jump on a plane and head over to Aceh Timur to see for ourselves and arrange protests and whip up local support?  Not really.  I do think, however, that there is a global imperative to save these forests if only for the selfish reason that without them, we will all die.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part VI

Part VI: The Jakarta Post warned of continued illegal logging in the rainforest a month before the mining story broke

Aceh draft bylaw risks forests, say activists
--The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Thu, March 14 2013, 8:04 AM

[The highlights are mine.]
Environmental activists have called on the government to review the draft spatial planning bylaw proposed by the Aceh administration, which they say is putting the province’s protected forests at risk

Farwiza of the Koalisi Peduli Hutan Aceh (Coalition of Aceh Rainforest Movement) said that the new spatial planning bylaw, known as RTRW, would allow the conversion of around 1.2 million hectares of the existing 3.78 million hectares of protected forests into plantations.

The draft bylaw, which was prepared under newly elected Governor Zaini Abdullah, would reduce the total protected forest level from about 68 percent to 45 percent of the total land. The proposal has been submitted to the Forestry Ministry for approval.

Farwiza said the RTRW also included a plan to construct a road network throughout protected forests in Aceh, with a total area of 554,928 hectares of land.

“The road will only connect less than two percent of the population, which mainly lives in the northern part of the region that isn’t covered by the road network,” Fawriza said in a press conference on Wednesday. “The road network will put the rest of the population at stake.”

The coalition’s Efendi Isma said the proposed spatial plan failed to consider the interests of local communities.
“The Aceh provincial government urged the central government to approve the bylaw based on the argument that it would boost Aceh’s economy, when in fact it is purely to accommodate business interests,” Efendi said.
He said most companies, including palm oil plantations and logging concessions that had secured operational permits (HGU) in Aceh, were foreign companies.

Separately, Graham F. Usher, landscape protection specialist of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said that the plan also placed the Leuser Ecosystem, the home of terrestrial flora and fauna, under threat. Gunung Leuser National Park covers an area of 623,987 hectares, taking in both lowland and mountainous forests in Aceh.

Leuser is the only ecosystem in the world where all endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants, live in one place,” Usher said. “The road network will give access to people who want to open up protected forests and hunt endangered species,” he said.
Usher said Aceh was Sumatra’s last hope of forest conservation and that the current number of rhinos left in Aceh was under 200.

“Aceh has the most complete spatial data, a result of the hard work of international and local aid groups after the tsunami. It’s so frustrating to know that the administration has ignored this data and has proposed this plan,” he said.

As the 2002 article, below, demonstrates, Jakarta had little sympathy for refugees from the conflict, and blamed early deforestation on families from Aceh Timur who fled their homes and re-settled to the south, in another part of the Leuser ecosystem.  I can’t help but note that in 2002 when Acehnese were occupying the forest it was an environmental crime, but today, when mining, petroleum and palm oil interests are in Aceh causing more and irreversible damage, government officials call it “strengthening the economy” and “good business practice.”  The highlights are mine.

Logging blitz threatens N. Sumatra Leuser forest
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 03/12/2002 7:18 AM | National
Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) in North Sumatra province is facing further degradation, as illegal logging and occupation of land in this protected forest by Acehnese refugees has continued unchecked.

At least 3,000 hectares of land inside the forest are currently occupied by around 700 families from the neighboring restive province of Aceh, who are using it as a resettlement area and for agriculture.

The occupied land is located in Sei Lepan and Besitang subdistricts in Langkat regency, North Sumatra.

The Consortium to Safeguard the Leuser Forest and Ecosystem Zone (KP-HAKEL), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) concerned with the protected park, said the refugees, mostly from East Aceh regency, began to seize the land illegally in early 2001.

Initially they came in small groups but their numbers later swelled due to the absence of security guards preventing the illegal intrusion.

Deni Purba, a Consortium activist, said not all the settlers were Acehnese refugees but land speculators from Langkat and Medan, involved in clearing the protected forest since the 1980s.

He said that based on findings of the Consortium, which oversees 30 NGOs dealing with environmental affairs, the speculators have played a significant role in encouraging Acehnese refugees to settle there in the former's own interest.

The existence of the refugees, who now total 1000 families, has brought economic fortune to the speculators as they have ready access to a pool of labor to assist in the illegal logging.

The speculators have sold two hectares of land in the Leuser forest at Rp 2 million to Rp 4 million to each refugee family, who may pay for it in installments.

With a down payment of only Rp 50,000, a refugee family can acquire two hectares of land and repay its monthly installments from the illegal logging income.

""In such a way, land speculators can tie refugees in to the illegal logging process,"" Deni told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

In an effort to curb the continued onslaught on the protected forest, the Consortium urged the central government to immediately intervene in resettling refugees to more appropriate areas and take firm action against the speculators.  [Note: ending the conflict so they can go home is apparently not an option.]

The refugees fled their homes in East Aceh following the unabated fighting between government troops and armed members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Last September, the Leuser management authorities managed to relocate at least 154 refugee families from the forest to Riau province. But the relocation effort seemed to grind to a halt without good reason.

Heri Wahyudi, coordinator of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JSC) -- who serves as a volunteer for the refugees -- said the ill-fated Acehnese were willing to be resettled to other areas, except for their home province.

He confirmed that local illegal loggers had been exploiting the refugees purely for their own benefit. "It has already become public knowledge that the existence of refugees here is advantageous to many speculators," he told the Post on Saturday in his JSC office, Medan.

The Acehnese refugees were indeed aware that what they had been doing was in breach of the law. "So far, they are not afraid of possible sanction by the authorities. They are prepared to face any risk," Heri said.

I want to know if any of these families ever had the chance to come home.

Next: The Leuser Foundation and its Recent Projects

Friday, August 23, 2013

Continued and Increased Oppression of the Rohingya in Myanmar: Sad But Not Surprising. Suu Kyi, We Hardly Knew Ye . . .

Thomas Fuller’s June 2013 article in the Asia Pacific Section of the New York Times confirms that the Rohingya are faring no better than they ever have, as monks speak out against the Muslim minority.


Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called “the enemy” — the country’s Muslim minority. Ashin Wirathu denies any role in riots in which Buddhist mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence.

Unfortunately, the Times is getting crafty and I can’t reprint many of  the sections of this article that I’d like to, but the statements by this supposedly enlightened man are so incendiary that my blog would probably just disappear in a puff of smoke.

Here are a few highlights:

 “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims. “I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers , . . I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.”

Buddhist monasteries associated with the fundamentalist movement, which calls itself 969 [three digits that monks say symbolize the virtues of the Buddha, Buddhist practices and the Buddhist community,]  . . .What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society has grown into a nationwide fundamentalist movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people.  Ashin Wirathu says Buddhism is under siege by Muslims who are having more children than Buddhists and buying up Buddhist-owned land.

There is wide disdain in Myanmar for a group of about one million stateless Muslims, who call themselves Rohingya, some of whom migrated from Bangladesh.  Hate-filled speeches and violence have endangered Myanmar’s path to democracy, raising questions about the government’s ability to keep the country’s towns and cities safe and its willingness to crack down or prosecute Buddhists in a Buddhist-majority country.

In his recent sermon, [Ashin Wirathu] described the reported massacre of schoolchildren and other Muslim inhabitants in the central city of Meiktila in March, documented by a human rights group, as a show of strength.

“If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.”

Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.  Ashin Wirathu denies any role in the riots. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence.

The Dalai Lama, after the riots in March, said killing in the name of religion was “unthinkable” and urged Myanmar’s Buddhists to contemplate the face of the Buddha for guidance.

Apparently they have not taken that advice.

The responses, from a listserv I subscribe to, are heartening, but at the end of the day, international outrage seems to be doing nothing to get the Myanmar government to put an end to this disgraceful and inhumane practice. 

 “Sad and disgusting. . . .  It would have been nice to think "we" Buddhists were different, but that would have been drawing the kinds of distinctions against which Buddhism warns.”

 “That Wirathu [leader of the Buddhists attacking Myanmar's Muslims] speaks from his dark side (we all have one) is one thing, but that he has great influence over others-- this is disastrous.  

 “Cults & their leaders are found throughout time & space.  It catches our attention, however, when for example a group, like Buddhists, who are associated with gentleness get linked to hate/violence. When the human mind. . . is obscured like this, everything from discrimination to atrocities happen.”

Next: Back to the Sustainability Series