A coal rush spreads de­struc­tion in Kal­i­man­tan.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH - By AngelA De­wAn

Barges loaded with moun­tains of coal glide down the pol­luted Ma­hakam river on In­done­sian Bor­neo ev­ery few min­utes. Viewed from above, they form a dot­ted black line as far as the eye can see, des­tined for power sta­tions in China and In­dia.

a coal rush that has drawn in­ter­na­tional min­ers to east Kal­i­man­tan prov­ince has rav­aged the cap­i­tal, sa­marinda, which risks be­ing swal­lowed up by min­ing if the ex­ploita­tion of its de­posits ex­pands any fur­ther.

Mines oc­cupy more than 70% of sa­marinda, govern­ment data show, forc­ing en­tire vil­lages and schools to move away from toxic mud­slides and con­tam­i­nated wa­ter sources.

The de­struc­tion of for­est around the city to make way for mines has also re­moved a nat­u­ral buf­fer against floods, lead­ing to fre­quent waist-high del­uges dur­ing the six-month rainy sea­son.

and de­spite the 200 mil­lion tonnes of coal dug and shipped out of east Kal­i­man­tan each year, its cap­i­tal is crip­pled by fre­quent hours­long black­outs as the city’s age­ing power plant suf­fers con­stant prob­lems.

Farmer Ko­mari, who goes by one name, has lived in a cor­ner of sa­marinda half an hour from the city cen­tre since 1985 and used to get by grow­ing small amounts of rice and breed­ing fish. But the mines have poi­soned the wa­ter used in his fields and small ponds, he says.

“The rice is ba­si­cally grown in poi­sonous wa­ter,” said the 70-year-old, stand­ing among his padi, an­kle-deep in brown sludge near the bare, one-room wooden shack where he lives with his wife. “We still eat it but I think it’s pretty bad for us,” he says, adding that the wa­ter makes his skin itch.

along with 18 other farm­ers, Ko­mari has filed a civil suit against govern­ment of­fi­cials, blam­ing them for con­tam­i­nat­ing their wa­ter sources and al­low­ing ram­pant min­ing.

They are not seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion, in­stead ask­ing the govern­ment to oblige a coal com­pany next to their homes to de­con­tam­i­nate the wa­ter and pro­vide health ser­vices.

Udin, who owns and drives a rental car and was born in sa­marinda 30 years ago, said the city today has been trans­formed. “When I was a kid, my home was a jun­gle with orang utans and so many dif­fer­ent colour­ful birds. But now it is bleak,” he said.

ac­cord­ing to Jatam, a group rep­re­sent­ing com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by min­ing across In­done­sia, the root of the prob­lem is ob­vi­ous – lo­cal of­fi­cials have been lin­ing their pock­ets with bribes from com­pa­nies in ex­change for grant­ing them per­mits to mine.

“a bunch of cronies have done this to sa­marinda. We call them the min­ing mafia,” said Merah Jo­han­syah from the group’s sa­marinda branch.

Jatam and In­done­sian Cor­rup­tion Watch re­cently re­ported a case to the coun­try’s anti-graft agency, al­leg­ing an In­done­sian com­pany, graha Benua etam, in 2009 bribed sa­marinda’s for­mer en­ergy and min­ing depart­ment chief in ex­change for a per­mit.

They say at least four bil­lion ru­piah (rM1.1mil) was handed out in cor­rupt pay­ments, and that some of the money flowed to a for­mer mayor for a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. The com­pany could not be con­tacted for comment.

Bribes are be­ing paid for more than just per­mits, Jo­han­syah said. He said they also help com­pa­nies mine in ar­eas they are not sup­posed to and avoid obli­ga­tions such as con­sult­ing com­mu­ni­ties and car­ry­ing out en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ments.

Law en­force­ment, of­ten a prob­lem across

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