Mamberamo people oppose dam project

Down to Earth No 50 August 2001

Indigenous peoples in the Mamberamo region of West Papua are calling for the 7.7 million hectare Mamberamo mega-project to be stopped.

The Mamberamo project, announced in the 1990s by former President Habibie when he was minister for research and technology, includes the construction of hydro-dams which will permanently affect the fragile ecosystem of the mangrove swamps downstream. Other plans include agribusiness, forestry and heavy industry, including a steelworks, nickel and copper smelters and a fuel cell engine plant. (see DTEs 32,34,35,37 and 49 for background)

After the economic crisis hit in 1997, the project ground to a halt. Even now, it is not thought that any major investors have committed funds to a potential eco-disaster which could be even larger than the Central Kalimantan mega-project. However, recent statements indicate that Jakarta still wants Mamberamo to go ahead after special autonomy has been settled (see DTE 49). In May, environment minister Sonny Keraf, promised that if the Papuan people were opposed, the project would be shelved.

Alarmed at the prospects of their lands being taken over and their livelihoods destroyed, a consultation of local indigenous peoples in the Mamberamo area has decided to reject the project. In May, a delegation travelled to Jakarta to put this decision to government ministers and try to persuade them that development in the area should be aimed at improving the lives of local peoples, not attracting heavy industry. "We don't want the Mamberamo River to be destroyed by irresponsible people", said Wempi Bilsi, head of the Mamberamo Indigenous Peoples' organisation. "If our fish are wiped out, we're worried we'll starve to death."

The delegation also objected to the fact that a 1995 government survey of the area had concluded that there were "no people living in the area". In fact there are an estimated 20,000 people living in the Mamberamo watershed. The government appears to be determined to go ahead with the project. According to Made Astawa Rai, a senior official with at the Eastern Indonesian Development office, the environmental impact assessment is not yet ready. But even if the study produces a negative conclusion "the government will keep persuading the local people to accept the plan," he told the Indonesian weekly, Tempo.

(Tempo 12-18/Jun/01;


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