Indonesia: Central Sulawesi’s mineral mining muddle

Ruslan Sangadji The Jakarta Post 6 Dec 16;

Risky business: Sand and rock mining activities take place on the shores of Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi. The massive mining operation has caused environmental and health problems.

Large-scale rock and sand mining in Central Sulawesi has taken its toll on the environment and people in the area.

On the shores of Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi, excavators and crushers were seen in full operation, smashing stones into gravel, sand and dust. Large trucks then took these small rocks to barges and tugboats for delivery to East Kalimantan.

Around 100 meters from the mine in Watusampu subdistrict, Ulujadi district, Palu, a middle-aged woman was sweeping the yard of the local public health center. The thick dust she was removing came from mineral, rock and sand mines around the hills in Watusampu.

Hamidah, the woman who heads the health center, said the dust polluting the air had caused local residents to suffer from acute respiratory infection, with up to five patients complaining of symptoms daily. If they remain untreated, she fears that they might be affected by tuberculosis.

The health center has recorded around 20 cases of people vomiting blood and hundreds of others affected by respiratory disease caused by the mining dust over the last few months.

In addition to health problems, 23 traffic accidents have taken place at mining locations. There has also been erosion and landslides, creating slippery roads within only a year.

Environmental activist Dedi Irawan said large-scale mining activities had also impacted the supply of water in the area. Currently, there are six mining companies operating in the region, each with a concession of 12 hectares and a shoreline reclamation area of up to 200 meters.

Talo, a local woman, said it was now harder for her to access water than five years ago, when water from nearby mountains was running plentifully.

“Now the water has been contaminated by mining dust,” she complained.

An agriculture expert from Palu’s Tadulako University (Untad), Alam Anshari, said the dust had also affected plants cultivated by residents as the thick dust sticking to their leaves hampers the process of photosynthesis.

The irresponsible mining activities may also increase the vulnerability of the area to earthquakes, the university’s spatial layout expert, Amar Akbar Ali, says.

He explains that sand mining activities located on the outskirts of Palu and Donggala serve as a buffer zone for the city and regency.

Seismographic records at the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency in Palu show that almost every minute Palu and Donggala are shaken, though only by minor tremors detectable by the seismograph.

“The situation will get worse if uncontrolled mining continues in the same way,” said Amar.

Health and environmental problems are among issues that have arisen from the lack of supervision over large-scale sand and rock mining in Palu and Donggala, resulting in many irresponsible practices, at both the exploration and exploitation stage.

When mining business licenses were still under the authority of regents and mayors, local governments issued many mining permits. Yet, there has seemingly been an inadequate level of supervision from local authorities.

Head of the provincial energy and mineral resources office, Bambang Sunaryo, said that 34 licenses had been issued in Palu and an additional 55 in Donggala, most of which hadn’t been clear and clean.

Meanwhile, the Mining Advocacy Network of Central Sulawesi recorded only 24 licenses issued in Donggala.

“If the number turned out to be 55 in Donggala, the provincial administration might have issued new ones,” said Syahruddin Douw, the network’s director for Central Sulawesi

Syahruddin explained that his office’s data was based on Donggala’s mineral mining tax revenue of Rp14.063 billion (US$1.04 million) annually between 2014 and 2015.

Yet, Bambang Sunaryo denied such accusations, arguing that since the revocation of local authority over license issuance by Law No. 23/2014; his office had not issued any new mining business licenses.

“We’re now evaluating all the existing mining licenses,” Bambang said, adding that both license holders and local administrations were responsible for the many violations that had occurred.

Among others, some mining companies possessing only exploration permits have begun exploitation activities. As an excuse, they have reportedly said that the materials they are looking for are visible on the surface and therefore no further exploration is needed.

The provincial energy and mineral resources office plans to halt all mining activities with questionable licenses. Such action follows the Corruption Eradication Commission’s supervision program in 2014 on mining operation restructuring.

“If a company is unwilling to meet the relevant requirements, its license will be revoked,” Bambang pointed out.

Head of the provincial environment agency, Abdul Rahim, admitted that provisional study results had revealed many violation indicators, including environmental damage around mining areas in Palu and Donggala and respiratory complaints from residents.

— Photos by Ruslan Sangadji

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