Tue, 26 Aug 2003

NGOs say no to Jatigede dam project in W. Java

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A number of non-governmental organizations strongly opposed on Monday a government plan to construct the Jatigede dam in Sumedang, West Java, saying the government should prioritize the reforestation of the upper reaches of the Cimanuk river instead.

"Reforestation should become the first priority for maintaining the water catchment area, without which there would not be enough water to fill up the reservoir," said Usep Setiawan of the Working Group on Conservation for Nature and Natural Resources.

The government's argument that the dam would help thousands of farmers in West Java overcome drought and floods "was only an excuse" as the two natural phenomena were triggered by rampant deforestation.

Taufik Kiemas, the husband of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, said over the weekend that the construction of the Jatigede dam was a political decision that had to be carried out soon.

The government claims that the Rp 600 billion project, which is expected to start in April 2004, will have the capacity to hold 650 million cubic meters of water to supply some 90,000 hectares of farmland in the northern part of West Java and some parts of Central Java.

Usep warned that the construction of the dam would create more environmental problems as the soil where the government planned to build the dam was not stable.

"The soil where the dam is to be built is not stable. It is prone to landslides," he said, citing an analysis from a Bandung- based environmental agency.

If the project is pushed through, it would cover an area of some 6,000 hectares of unstable land.

Economically speaking, Usep added, the construction of the dam would not be beneficial to farmers, who were mostly peasants.

The land that would be flooded by the reservoir in Jatigede was very fertile, with local farmers able to harvest three crops a year, while the farmers in other areas could only harvest two crops a year.

"The government should encourage Jatigede to become a major rice producer, instead of submerging it under a reservoir," Usep said.

He warned the government to consider the fate of the some 5,000 families from 30 villages in five districts in Sumedang who would have to be relocated if the dam project was to be pursued.

The farmers, who had lived there for generations, would not be able to survive if the government moved them to other places, Usep said.

The government, which has been planning the project since the 1980s, started relocating residents from the area in the 1990s. Some of those who had been relocated recently came back to Jatigede as they could not farm the land in the places that had been assigned to them. The land was not as fertile as that in Jatigede, Usep said.

Longgena Gintings of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) warned the government to learn from the unresolved controversy involving the development of the Kedungombo dam in Central Java.

The water level of the Kedungombo reservoir, which was built to overcome water shortages in some parts of Central Java, has continued to decline during the current drought.

The development of the World Bank-funded Kedungombo dam in 1991 forced 5,268 families off their land, with low compensation being paid for the 9,529 hectares that were expropriated from them.

To date, the dispute involving the Rp 152 million dam has yet to be settled.