The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) ended a three-day conference in Jakarta on Tuesday with recommendations that the government and the House of Representatives revise the nation`s disaster management policies and do more to protect the people.
Walhi held the conference to raise public awareness on preventing and facing both natural and man-made disasters due to the increasing number of environmental catastrophes in Indonesia in the past few years.
"One of the recommendations of the conference is that the government should review policies involving the exploitation of natural resources, such as the forestry and mining laws," Walhi executive director Chalid Muhammad said Tuesday during a protest march that passed in front of the Forestry Ministry after the closing of the conference.
Other recommendations stipulate that the government should annul a raft of laws, such as those covering foreign investment, which could lead to environmental destruction and, eventually, disasters; re-enact laws that guarantee natural resource management for social welfare and avoid creating any regulations, such as those allowing the construction of a nuclear power plant, that may cause disasters.
Chalid said the government is prone to creating policies that support the exploitation of natural resources and alienate local people. He said that to handle natural disasters, not only does the country require a disaster management law, but also a review of all laws that exploit the environment and are disadvantageous to communities.
"Many people say that their areas have been taken away by the companies, while they can only stand there and watch. We also recommend that the government change its political stance by not exploiting nature and by giving people a chance to manage their own natural resources," he said.
Chalid said that in addition to protecting citizens with laws, the government should also change the school curriculum to cover disasters and environmental issues, which would prompt the public to do more for environmental preservation. "The government should also establish a special body for managing and reducing disasters," he said.
He also warned of the possibility of further deforestation in Indonesia and urged the government to enact a logging moratorium to save the forests.
"If the government doesn`t stop the logging, five years from now all of Sumatra`s natural forests will vanish, 10 years from now Kalimantan will have no forests and in 15 years the Papuan forests will be extinct. We must have a logging moratorium followed by reforestation," said Chalid.
During Walhi`s demonstration outside the Forestry Ministry, Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban approached the crowd to court a discussion, but the protesters ignored him and continued their long march to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry and later to the State Palace.
After the demonstrators had passed, Kaban said that in a democracy, all parties should be allowed time to air their points of view. He added that demonstrations should be based on fact and not opinion.
"I would say that Walhi`s movement is a cowardly one because they don`t dare to hold a dialogue. I didn`t receive any facts from Walhi. They only talked and they ran away after that," he said.
Later in the day, Kaban held a press conference to announce that his office was urging National Police chief Gen. Sutanto to evaluate all provincial police chiefs` performance throughout Indonesia in arresting illegal logging suspects in accordance with a 2005 presidential decree on the eradication of illegal logging.
Kaban told reporters at the ministry that Sutanto should focus the evaluation on Riau, North Sumatra and Papua because many illegal logging suspects had been exonerated in those areas.
"Those cases have made the public think that our efforts to eradicate illegal logging are not working as expected," he said.
Kaban cited a case in Papua, in which an illegal logging suspect was freed by the provincial police chief. This indicates that the presidential decree has not been well implemented, he added.
Source: www.thejakartapost.com (5 Juli 2007)