Heart of Borneo conservation initiative at risk from Indonesian
February 04, 2009
Indonesia's Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono is pushing a proposal
to develop economic zones along the border between Malaysia and
Kalimantan "as soon as possible" for national security reasons,
reports the Jakarta Globe. The plan — which Juwono claims is to
protect Indonesia's sovereignty — would undermine the historic Heart
of Borneo conservation initiative signed in 2007 by spurring massive
expansion of logging, plantation development, and road construction
in the biologically-rich region.
"We have to carry it out as soon as possible, but need other
ministries to cooperate with us," Juwono was quoted as saying by the
He added that economic development would act as "a nonmilitary
deterrent to any encroachment on Indonesian territory" — presumably
by Malaysia or the tiny sultanate of Brunei. The last battle on the
Malay-Indonesian border in Borneo was in 1966 when Indonesia was
emerging as a nation.
Juwono has already drawn up a draft of the plan, which calls for
plantations, new roads, and "economic zones" along the border, and is
now looking for support from other government departments.
Theo L. Sambuaga, the chairman of House Defense Commission I, which
oversees defense, said the plan could be funded by reallocation of
state funds from the ministries of people's welfare and public works.
"The government has allotted money for the Ministry of Education to
build new schools. If it merged with the border establishment
program, the school could be built there," he was quoted as saying by
the Jakarta Globe. "We have to guarantee the welfare of our citizens
living near borders, so they will never think to favor or move to the
The minister's decision to invoke national sovereignty to justify
development of the remote, sparsely populated border region is not
without precedent — the country's transmigration program, which
resettled outer islands in the archipelago with residents from Java
until the 1990s, sought to quell separatist movements and gain access
to resources, including timber, oil and gas, and minerals. Critics of
transmigration say the program drove large-scale destruction of the
environment and spurred ethnic conflict. The proposed plan will
likely spark similar fears.
WWF, the environmental group that led the Heart of Borneo initiative,
has called the region "the most important center of biological
diversity in the world." The tri-country initiative aims to 220,000
square kilometers (85,000 square miles) of tropical forests across
Borneo, which is home to such endangered animals as orangutans,
forest elephants and rhinos.
Borneo, the third largest island in the world, was once covered with
dense rainforests. With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove
forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually
impassable and unexplored by outsiders. Headhunters ruled the remote
parts of the island until a century ago.
In the 1980s and 1990s Borneo underwent a remarkable transition. Its
forests were leveled at a rate unparalleled in human history—perhaps
80 percent of the island's primary forest was lost since 1980.
Borneo's rainforests went to industrialized countries like Japan and
the United States in the form of garden furniture, paper pulp and
chopsticks. Initially most of the timber was taken from the Malaysian
part of the island in the northern states of Sabah and Sarawak. Later
forests in the southern part of Borneo, an area belonging to
Indonesia and known as Kalimantan, became the primary source for
tropical timber. Today the forests of Borneo are but a shadow of
those of legend. The Heart of Borneo initiative is seen as one of the
last opportunities to conserve what remains of the island's
Markus Junianto Sihaloho. Plan to Develop Kalimantan Border Proposed.
The Jakarta Globe 4 Feb 2009
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