West Java mega-dam looms

Down to Earth No 59  November 2003

A notorious dam project, designed during the Suharto era, is due to go ahead next year despite opposition from local people and NGOs supporting them.

The Jatigede dam, in Sumedang, West Java, is being billed as the answer to flooding and drought problems in the northern lowlands of West Java. The government claims it will provide 90,000 hectares of farmland with irrigated water, increase the rice harvest as well as generate electricity for industry and supply clean drinking water for residents. But the dam will also flood around 6,000 hectares of land - much of which is highly fertile farmland - and drown 30 villages, forcing over 28,000 people to move from their homes and land.

These people want the project stopped. They have suffered a series of human rights violations since the land acquisition process started in the 1980s (the project has been planned since the 1960s). In September around 400 protesters gathered outside the West Java governor's office in Bandung, demanding a halt to the dam. They said the project would harm their futures and cause social problems. They called for the dam to be built on an alternative non-productive site.


History of intimidation and torture

A September 2003 report compiled by the Bandung branch of the Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Bandung) documents the human rights violations associated with the project's land acquisition process, and describes how this process broke various laws and regulations along the way. The report, which characterises the case as "an extraordinary crime", describes the intimidation against villagers who refused to accept the low compensation levels set by the government. As was common during the 1980s and 1990s, people who objected to poor treatment at the hands of the government were threatened with being branded as members of the outlawed communist party, the PKI. In one incident in 1987, a group of 16 villagers were summoned to the Sumedang district military command. They were accused of stirring up political unrest, interrogated, and two of the group were severely beaten and kicked. As a result, says the LBH report, some of these people suffered permanent physical disabilities (including hearing loss) and/or psychological problems.

The history behind Jatigede invites comparisons with the World Bank-funded Kedung Ombo dam in neighbouring Central Java. This also involved forcible evictions, low compensation levels unilaterally set by government officials, plus a campaign of violence and intimidation against anyone who resisted. The World Bank admitted some of the failings of this project, but the dam's victims have never seen justice for the human rights violations they suffered and the compensation dispute remains unresolved today. (For more background to Kedung Ombo see DTE 24-26).


Funding Jatigede

The US$360 million* project will be funded from the national budget and overseas loans. The project's detailed design was funded under the World Bank's US$37 million Irrigation Project (16) loan which was approved in 1982. This loan included other irrigation projects in Sumatra and elsewhere on Java. According to the Bank's Indonesia office, US$2.7 million was disbursed for Jatigede's design, and this loan closed in 1988. Based on various feasibility studies and assessments, the Bank then decided not to proceed with further funding for the project and is not involved in construction.

This contradicts information from Indramayu district's local head of irrigation, who says the World Bank is prepared to finance the dam, providing that the central government acquires the land.

*Estimates of the cost vary according to sources.


The compensation levels set by the government at Jatigede were Rp300 to Rp650 per square metre of land. These were almost ten times lower than the market prices of the time, according to LBH data. In addition, land measurements were inaccurate and the way compensation was set for crops and buildings was never made clear to residents. Local people were never given the choice over whether or not to move, and were not consulted about the value of their land and property. Indeed, according to the LBH report, they were tricked into accepting the payments, through manipulation by officials.


Re-occupation of land

The long delays in the dam construction were due in part to the financial crisis which hit Indonesia in 1997. It is therefore not surprising that many of the original landowners who were forced to accept the low compensation and to leave the site, moved back to their original land and starting farming it again. Villagers said they did this because the alternative land provided was of lower quality and they could not farm it.

Now the Sumedang district head is talking about "being firm" with these people. He is insisting that they become "local transmigrants" and are moved to a resettlement site nearby.


Forests, not dams

LBH also reckons that over Rp6 billion (around US$700,000) has been corrupted from project funds, most of which should have been paid to affected communities as compensation.

The Jatigede People's Communication Forum (FKRJ), an organisation set up by people affected by the dam agrees. It says the project is providing fertile ground for corruption by people "above the law".

Indonesian NGOs are arguing that the money would be far better spent on rehabilitating deforested land in the Cimanuk river catchment area, since the main cause of the worsening droughts and floods in the area is deforestation. According to one organisation, the Working Group on Conservation for Nature and Natural Resources, the dam will create more environmental problems because the soil in the area to be flooded is unstable.

The dam will also submerge the archeological site of Leuwiloa in Darmaja subdistrict.


Decision delayed?

In response to the protests, the central government's minister for Settlement and Regional Infrastructure, Soenarno, said in September that the government would review the plans and make a final decision by the end of next year. However, it seems clear that the government is determined to proceed with this project. According to LBH Bandung, the national parliament in Jakarta recently approved a large sum for the remaining land clearance (one village plus 1,200 hectares of land controlled by the state forestry company, Perhutani). Information obtained by FKRJ from the minister for resettlement, shows that land acquisition and resettlement are due to proceed from 2004 to 2007 and that construction is planned to start in 2007, with the dam becoming operational from 2010.

(Source: LBH Bandung: Facts of the Violations of Human Rights & the Law Corruption in the Jatigede Dam Project in Sumedang - West Java, September 2003; World Bank Projects Database; www.worldbank.org; Jakarta Post 29/Jul/2002; 26/Aug/03; 5,6/Sep/03; additional Indonesian press reports via LBH Bandung, email from Mohamad Al-Arief, Communications Officer, World Bank Jakarta office, 28/Oct/03).


Ignoring WCD recommendations

The Jatigede dam project has not only violated Indonesia's own legislation, but also goes against the international standards set out in recommendations of the World Commission on Dams. These principles include the requirement that "Demonstrable public acceptance of all key decisions is achieved through agreements negotiated in an open and transparent process conducted in good faith and with the informed participation of all stakeholders".

On dams in the pipeline, the report of the WCD (Dams and Development) says "It is never too late to improve the outcomes of projects". It calls for an open and participatory review of all ongoing and planned projects to see whether changes are needed to bring them into line with WCD principles. Responsible parties should ensure that such a review:

  • uses a stakeholder analysis based on recognising rights and assessing risks, in order to identify a stakeholder forum that is consulted on all issues affecting them;
  • enables vulnerable and disadvantaged stakeholder groups to participate in an informed manner;
  • includes a distribution analysis to see who shares the costs and benefits of the project;
  • develops agreed mitigation and resettlement measures to promote development opportunities and benefit sharing for displaced and adversely affected people.
This kind of review has never happened for the Jatigede project. If it had, and the dam's social impacts had been properly assessed from a 'rights and risks' approach, the project would never have been revived.

(See Dams, Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making, November 2000, on www.dams.org)

The US-based NGO, International Rivers Network, has uploaded an NGO guide to the World Commission on Dams - see www.irn.org/wcd/.