Wetenschap - 14 maart 2002

Indonesians need to learn to see the positive aspects of conflict

Indonesians need to learn to see the positive aspects of conflict

MSc student studies effects of mining on Borneo

On the Indonesian island of Borneo, mining activities are causing widespread pollution. The local people are protesting without much result, says Yurdi Yasmi who conducted this research for her forestry MSc degree.

Yasmi, who comes from Indonesia herself, established contact with indigenous Dayak people, who live in the forest nearby coal mines. She took part in their daily activities, accompanying them to their shifting cultivation areas, hunting areas and experiencing traditional ceremonies. "It is a very remote area. However, they are very nice people and were quite open to me because I spent around two and a half months living with them. It was hard, but looking back I enjoyed it and learned a lot."

What Yasmi noticed was that these people have serious conflicts with coal mining companies. And not without reason. "What worries the local people about the mining operations reads as a long list: river pollution, air pollution, soil degradation, unfair compensation for their land and trees. However, the most serious one is river pollution. The local people are highly dependent on the river for their daily life. Since the mining started, the nearby river has become heavily polluted. They have no choice but to continue using the river for bathing, drinking and washing, and we can see that many people are affected by skin diseases."


The Dayak people asked the mining companies to provide clean water facilities in the village. Although one company provided one water tank, it is not enough for the people, says Yasmi. There have been demonstrations to the mining companies for various reasons. "Those most often heard were unmet demands or breaking of agreements. The community had demanded clean water facilities from the company and considered this demand to be very urgent due to the negative effects of the mining operation. Air pollution is also very serious. Many children and others suffer from influenza and acute breathing problems."

Yasmi concludes that conflicts in Indonesian forests are widespread. Mining activities are causing a lot of problems which all make local communities' life harder. Conflicts like those experienced in the Indonesian forests are a sensitive issue, so studying them is not easy, adds Yasmi. "In our Indonesian tradition we are not used to talking about conflict. In the past, conflict was suppressed. It is avoided and seen as something negative and destructive. Policy makers tend to take their own way in dealing with various conflicts. To me, the most important thing is to change our attitude toward conflict. We should view conflict as something positive too, something that can bring necessary changes in social life and forest management. If this can be achieved conflict is not only avoidable but desirable for better social conditions. I guess it needs time to confirm this though in these difficult times in Indonesia."

Hugo Bouter

Mining operations on Borneo are leading to considerable pollution of rivers. The local Dayak population now has less access to clean drinking water and many people are affected by skin diseases. Photo Yurdi Yasmin