Un hombre en manifestación contra la minería de carbón en Indonesia

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest coal exporters. In 2015, the country mined over 460 million tonnes of coal. Today more than 5,000 mining permits for coal mining in Indonesia have been issued. The Indonesian government wants to produce an additional 35.000 MW of energy, mostly from coal – despite its promise under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 29% by 2030.

“I have a message for the State and for all indigenous people, all the people of Indonesia. God only created earth once, and the earth can never give birth to another earth. When deforestation is complete, the Earth is dredged, people are destitute and culture has disappeared, then our future is dark. Because Earth is our mother, the forest is our breath of life, water is our blood and rocks are the foundation of the earth. This is our message to the government officials: stop the mine.”

Ibu Mardiana, nurse, Tamiang Layang village

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Impacts of coal mining in Indonesia

Coal mining is causing mass deforestation in Indonesia, affecting local communities’ health and livelihoods, and fuelling land conflict. Friends of the Earth Indonesia/ WALHI supports communities in their fight against coal and to restore their environment and communities. This is their story.

“Before the mining started, our life was one with nature and the forest. We lived from the forest… It gave us a wide variety of vegetables, such as bamboo shoots and galingale. Galingale was not planted by us – it grew by itself. Today, we cannot find galingale anymore.”

Pa Yusep, Gunung Karasik village

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Coal transport on tributary of the Barito River.

Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, is known for its pristine beaches, abundant wildlife and biodiverse rainforest – a vital source of livelihoods for indigenous communities. It is also an area under threat, as the Indonesian government continues to support intensive coal mining in the area. A total of 2,450 concessions have been handed out, covering an area of 3.8 million hectares. Some 280 of these concessions are already operating.

As the forest is cleared to make way for mines, communities are no longer able to gather fruits, vegetables and wood or hunt animals. Some have lost their source of income after selling their farmland to the mining company. They cannot fish or access clean drinking water, because the rivers are contaminated by mining waste. This impacts the women in communities particularly hard, since they are often responsible for collecting water.

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Pa Yusep with his wife Ibu Ahini

“Since the mine opened, it has been difficult for the community to get water. But today the water doesn’t flow anymore. We now have to  collect water from the river a few kilometres away because of the mine.”

Ibu Ahini, Gunung Karasik village

Pollution from mining has direct impacts on health: skin problems from contaminated water and lung problems from coal dust. Floods, landslides, and other disasters are exacerbated by the environmental disruption. Abandoned mines and the surrounding areas are often not restored by the companies, who deny any wrongdoing.

Communities are treated with little respect by the mining companies and have encountered violence whilst protesting peacefully. Mining creates conflicts in and between communities. Those protesting often face pressure from the police.

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Pa Yusep standing by an abandoned mine, which the local Indonesian company BNJM has failed to restore, adding to the suffering of the Gunung Karasik community.

“They came here without consulting the community. We did not get any job opportunities. It seems as if the community has no rights … We used to be safe here. It was peaceful. There was no conflict. Today, we get in trouble for demanding that the [mining] company respects our rights. We are even chased by the police.”

Pa Yusep, Gunung Karasik village

United against coal mining in Indonesia

Local communities have been protesting against mining for years. They want the government of Indonesia to withdraw mining permits, close existing mines and order the restoration of the soil, forests and rivers.

“We ask the government to revoke the coal mining licenses for the East Barito area, because this is all that is left for our children and grandchildren. That’s our message to government officials: stop the mine! Even though it will take a long time to restore everything like before, our future is there.”

Ibu Mardiana, nurse, Tamiang Layang

Friends of the Earth Indonesia/ WALHI supports the communities’ struggle in many ways. For example, WALHI takes water samples from rivers near mining sites to prove that it is contaminated, and pressures the Corruption Eradication Commission to revoke mining permits where companies violate the law by mining in forested areas, polluting rivers or refusing to pay taxes. Sometimes this is successful, but often companies continue to operate.

Coal harms people and the environment, ignores clean energy alternatives, community forest management and compromises Indonesia’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 29% by 2030. WALHI and local communities continue to mobilise to stop coal mining in Indonesia. They are also calling on the world to stop importing Indonesian coal and to stop banks and financial institutions investing in Indonesian coal.

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“My message to the government: revoke the permit for BNJM company to mine in the area of the Gunung Karasik village.”

Pa Yusep, Gunung Karasik village

Images: © Luka Tomac/ Friends of the Earth International