In central Sulawesi, powerful mining conglomerates have an insatiable appetite for mineral resources. In contrast to the northern and southern ends of the Indonesian island, the exploitation has only begun in the central region. But clearing of forests is already creating flooding and landslides. Residents are showing great courage in an attempt to save their rainforests.
“All people who protest against mining or palm oil plantations in Indonesia are in danger,» our local partner, Andika Ndika, explains. “They risk charges of terrorism, imprisonment, and violence.” Andika is the top organizer in the young Jatam team, an activist network opposing mining in Indonesia. The most recent act of violence occurred only a few days ago. In the Morowali district, police shot at people who were protesting the destructive oil and gas extraction of the Medco corporation, killing two men.
The activists from Jatam, the farmers, and the indigenous peoples have powerful opponents. The owners of the largest mines are global industrial players: Rio Tinto from Australia, Inco from the Brazilian Vale Group, and PT Bintang Delapan Minerals (BDM), an Indonesian company with a Chinese majority shareholding.
BDM has been mining nickel in Morowali since 2010 to supply the Chinese appetite for raw materials, having already decimated the Bahodopi region. “They started clearing forest in 2008,» says Andika. «Since then, there has been an increase in flooding, villages are being swallowed by floods, fields and harvests are buried beneath landslides. The poison from the mines is polluting rivers and streams. No fish can survive there. And a new harbour built to ship the nickel to China destroyed 20 hectares of mangrove forest.
Furthermore, the process for the permits and confiscation of land is perplexing. The affected people are not informed, no one offered them any compensation, much less requested their consent. «A company is legally required to do all of that,» says Andika. «Our lives depend on the rainforest. That’s why we have to continue to fight. Not because we want to, but because we have to.»
Jatam is planning to demand the population’s rights and the protection of central Sulawesi’s nature from the highest office of the land — the President of the Republic of Indonesia. The activists are requesting international help in taking this step.