Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Most lakes' ecosystems under threat: Minister

The Jakarta Post, Medan

Severe chemical pollution threatens most lakes in the country and has the potential to create further environmental disasters, a state minister says.

Citing an example, State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar said that the Jempang, Semayang and Melintang lakes in East Kalimantan province, home to the rare Mahakam pesut -- a highly endangered freshwater dolphin species -- required urgent attention if there was to be any chance of saving them.

He said that a similar problem had occurred in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, where the carp population continued to drop following the deaths of fish weighing thousands of tons due to koi herpes.

"Most of the lakes in Indonesia have been polluted by various chemicals originating from pulp, oil and fertilizer plants. The impact on the environment has been huge," said Rachmat on the sidelines of a national seminar held at the HKBP Nomensen University, Medan, on coping with the fish kills in Lake Toba.

Indonesia, he said, had a total of about 500 large and small lakes -- both natural and artificial. Among the lakes, Toba was the biggest in the country, covering some 110,260 hectares, while the deepest lake was Matano, with a depth of 600 meters.

He told reporters after the seminar that his office had drawn up a blacklist of 43 companies across the country, nine of them state-owned, that were responsible for polluting lakes.

"I have reprimanded them, and if in six months time the situation hasn't improved, we'll revoke their Environmental Impact Assessment Permits," he said.

In relation to the problems being experienced at Lake Toba, the minister said there was a need for proper management to ensure that the lake's ecosystem was capable of functioning as a life support system, guarantee the preservation of its various biological components and sustain the benefits produced by the lake.

Rahmat stressed that action was urgently needed bearing in mind that greater attention was being paid to lakes as evidenced by the setting up of World Lake Vision, which was launched by the International Lake Environment Committee (ILEC) at the third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, in mid March, 2003.

International commitments on the preservation of lake ecosystems had been adopted by virtue of the World Summit on Sustainable Development Plan of Implementation, the Biodiversity Convention and the Ramsar Convention.

"To give effect to all these (commitments), the environment ministry is preparing an Indonesian Lake Vision concept which will serve as a guide for officials in attempting to achieve sustainable lake management in Indonesia," he said.