Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Environment watchdog demands ban on leaded gas

JAKARTA (JP): Environmentalists wrapped up the year with a demand for an end to the use of leaded fuel and the holistic management of rivers, seas and forests to reduce the problem of pollution.

"Air and water pollution contribute to various illnesses such as respiratory problems and diarrhea, which have become common causes of death for our children," the chief of the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi), Emmy Hafild, said.

Walhi, in its year-end media briefing on Thursday, also threatened to launch an international campaign to boycott the use of Indonesian wood products as a last resort to dealing with the country's complex problem of forest exploitation.

The ill-prepared implementation of regional autonomy may also trigger friction between regions as they fight to claim ownership of natural resources, she said.

"Since the local administrations are now the ones holding the power and making decisions, they have to do it with regard to the preservation of the environment, but they do not have any experience in this," Emmy said.

Walhi suggested a revision of Law No. 22/1999 on regional autonomy to allow bio-ecoregion policies to be made between the provinces.

"River, forest and sea management must be integrated between the regions since the location of these natural resources are cross-border. So pollution in the river upstream will affect those areas downstream," she said.

According to the group, the key to addressing the problem of air pollution is to put into practice state-oil company Pertamina's pledge to expand the use of unleaded fuel.

"Jakarta is supposed to be free from leaded fuel by January (next year), and the whole country is supposed to use unleaded fuel by 2003. But so far there is no sign of such an effort," she said.

On deforestation, Walhi warned the government to take stern action to stop the rampant looting of timber.

"Widespread environmental destruction has caused massive floods and landslides ... but the government is still closing its eyes and ears to the fact that more than 56.6 million cubic meters of wood per year is obtained from illegal logging," she said.

According to data from 1998, national log consumption that year was 78.1 million cubic meters, but the amount of logs legally cut was only 21.4 million cubic meters.

State Minister of the Environment Sonny Keraf said earlier his office would prioritize the training of officers at the regency level to allow them to make decisions from an environmental perspective.

"They will be trained to deal with various issues such as how to deal with investors, permits, environmental management and coordination between related institutions," he said.

Walhi also contended that next year the government must focus on foreign contractors involved in what it alleged was environmental exploitation in Irian Jaya, Aceh, Kalimantan and Sumatra.(edt)