Tue, 19 Aug 2003

Jatigede dam project faces opposition from locals

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Indramayu, West Java

The central government is supportive of plans to develop a large dam in West Java to alleviate the annual water shortages experienced by the province, but says protests have hampered the project.

Opposition by non-governmental organizations, including environmental groups, against the Jatigede reservoir project in Sumedang were the main obstacle, said the Minister of Resettlements and Regional Infrastructures, Soenarno.

But he said that the failure to relocate around 5,000 families from nearby villages -- as part of the development plan, which was first initiated in 1986 -- was also slowing things down.

The government has also faced difficulties in clearing 6,000 hectares of land for the dam, which is likely to cost more than Rp 600 billion (US$70.5 million).

Protesters worry that thousands of relocated villagers could face a similar fate to those evicted by the government in the development of the Kedungombo dam in Boyolali, Central Java.

Many residents in Boyolali complained that they were not properly compensated for their land.

"The government, through the public works ministry, has said the development of the Jatigede dam will overcome the drought in Java's north coast areas. But individuals and non-governmental organizations have opposed the plan because of the Kedungombo case.

"Now everyone suffers from drought. If the problem is not addressed the condition will continue year after year. If people say that the dam is needed, we will develop it," Soenarno said on Saturday.

He said the government had revived the plan five years ago by preparing plans, including the design, budget and time-frame of the project.

"But non-governmental organizations, including Walhi (a leading environmental group), and those people that will be forced to relocate, reject the plan. It has serious social and environmental implications. We understand this," the minister said.

Soenarno said it could take five years and Rp 600 billion to build the Jatigede dam, adding that the estimate did not include the cost of relocating some 5,000 families.

He asked the West Java government and the Sumedang regent to continue their efforts to convince local people that the dam was for their own benefit.

"This is an era of regional autonomy, I expect the cooperation of the central government, people and local administration," he said.

Soenarno said that by damming the Cimanuk river some 650 million cubic meters of water could be stored.

It is expected to irrigate more than 90,000 hectares of farmland in Central Java and West Java's north coast areas, covering the regencies of Indramayu, Cirebon, Majalengka, Subang, Karawang, Sumedang, Brebes and Tegal.

The minister said the planned dam will also rectify the shortage of clean water during the prolonged dry season and control flooding, as well as operating as a hydro-power plant.

"However, we will only be able to realize this plan if we join hands in restoring and preserving the environment," he added.

He said foreign experts would not be needed to help build the dam as Indonesians are experienced in such projects.