Sat, 27 Aug 1994

Action imperative

At last it seems that the voices of concern over the continuing willful destruction of our living environment are being been heard. Bapedal, which is the government's Environmental Impact Management Board, made a strong statement public a couple of days ago. It is calling for a halt to the construction of a golf course on Bira Besar Island in the Seribu Island group and the restoration of the islands' natural environmental conditions.

As was widely reported earlier this week, extensive tracts of woodland and coral beds have been destroyed on the 30-hectare (45-acre) island just outside of Jakarta Bay over the past few months to make way for a nine-hole golf course, complete with clubhouse and luxury cottages.

Although work on the golf course and its supporting facilities and infrastructure is reported to have started last year, public concern over the fate of the island and its marine surroundings began to spread only after the Indonesian Environmental Forum, Walhi, started investigating the project and found that it was carried out in disregard of any proper environmental considerations.

Apparently, the proposal for the construction of the golf course on Bira Besar Island by PT Pulau Seribu Paradise was submitted to the Jakarta municipal administration last year. However, the Walhi report states that the authorities were reportedly still working on the required AMDAL environmental impact assessment papers for the project, when it was found that the golf course was already practically completed.

The reports says that as a result the island has been stripped of its original vegetation cover and the former woodlands replaced by manicured grass. Only bits of the original vegetation are left along the beaches. Nor has the island's surrounding marine environment been spared. Sand was quarried and coral beds destroyed to obtain construction material. Although no accurate estimate as to the full extent of the damage has as yet been made, much of the natural habitat of fish and the other creatures that live around coral reefs have been devastated.

At this point, as the Walhi report also notes, there is, of course, little use for the issuance of even a favorable AMDAL environmental feasibility assessment, since the project is as good as completed. Nevertheless, Bapedal's statement comes as a relief, even though it may be difficult to see how it will be possible for the developer, PT Pulau Seribu Paradise, to restore the island to its original conditions, as Bapedal is demanding. At best, what the developers can do is to cooperate and suspend any further construction until the proper papers are obtained, while doing what it can to restore the island's natural environment -- which obviously is not a short-term assignment.

What is most gratifying in this case is the stand which the authorities in charge seem to be taking about the matter. Minister of Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, in a separate statement, said that he has assigned his staff to assist the Jakarta municipal authorities to solve the problem. "In the meantime, I suggest that people don't play golf there," he said.

With the frequent reports that are circulating about the willful destruction of our environment, it is certainly time that we all take a firm stand against such offenses.

As Indonesians, who are naturally disinclined to speak out, we have perhaps in the past tended to be too forgiving toward offenders in such matters. But unless firm measures are taken now, we are afraid that more and more unprincipled individuals will be tempted to make use of this habit, to the harm of the majority of Indonesians.