Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Regions told to implement sustainability

Ridwan Max Sijabat and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post/Medan

Under regional autonomy, local governments should play strategic roles in implementing sustainable development, a top government minister says.

Since autonomy was implemented in 2001, regional governments have had the power to produce and implement a policy that supported sustainable development, State Minister of the Environment Rachmat Nadi Witoelar said.

This development could be achieved if the regional governments promoted the idea and exerted their power in prudent way. "The central government only produces a grand design, while the regional governments have the full authority to make the necessary policies and implement them," Rachmat said before more than a thousand delegates from 43 countries taking part in the Lake Toba Summit in North Sumatra.

The constant calls for sustainable development in Indonesia by environmentalists were necessary, as the idea had long been ignored by regional governments, he said.

Since regional autonomy was implemented, numerous environmental problems had emerged in many regions because many regional heads did not take environmental factors into consideration.

"Many regional administrations have given forestry concessions to pulp mills or converted areas into plantations to improve their revenue, damaging the ecosystem and endangering protected rare species. And consequently, natural disasters (floods and landslides caused by erosion) have been inevitable and claimed more human lives."

The minister said the regions should learn from the frequent landslides and floods in Sumatra and Java, which continually occurred because the government and people there neglected sustainable development.

Meanwhile, former environment minister Emil Salim, said the Lake Toba Summit was worthwhile as a strategic forum for participants from developed and developing countries to share their experiences.

"This international conference is quite strategic and follows up on ideas raised in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September, 2002.

"Overseeing social, economic and environmental development should no longer be limited to national governments and international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The main stake holders in the sustainable development are local administrations, businessmen, nongovernmental organizations, workers, women and peasants," he said.

Emil said regional administrations, especially delegates from Aceh and North Sumatra should cooperate with counterparts from developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia to learn how to empower farmers, forest dwellers, workers, environmental agencies and businesspeople to minimize any damage to the environment.

"Regental and municipal administrations in Aceh and North Sumatra should learn more from delegates from Japan and Australia who have many experiences in handling tsunamis, typhoons and hurricanes. They should empower all vulnerable groups, including the poor, women and children, to develop a healthy environment," he said.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao said he paid great attention to the summit because East Timor, a young and tiny country, wanted to exchange information from Indonesia and other participants on how to implement sustainable development.

Riau Governor Rusli Zainal and Papua Governor Jaap Salossa said strong law enforcement and consistency were badly needed to minimize the impact of development on the environment.