Wed, 12 Mar 2003

Saving what remains of Jakarta

Bambang Parlupi, Contributor, Jakarta

He does not consider the prestigious awards under his belt a reason to be complacent.

Instead, Chaeruddin keeps up his conservation work in his neighborhood in Karang Tengah in Cilandak subdistrict, South Jakarta. He has pioneered the reintroduction of plants -- indigenous or otherwise -- which have been wiped out by uncompromising property development.

The 47-year-old Betawi (Jakarta native) keeps doing "little things", such as breeding goats and planting trees in his neighborhood.

Although his formal education stopped at junior high school, his ideas and activities have enlightened many people, particularly in matters related to nature conservation.

"Forests and rivers should be considered sacred. God leaves them to us to take care of," said Chaeruddin, recipient of the 2000 Kalpataru national award from the central government in recognition for his conservation efforts.

Married to Lampung-born Partinah, 45, Chaeruddin is a guardian of the green area along the Pesanggrahan River which runs through Cilandak.

He began his conservation efforts along the banks of this river, which eventually culminated in him winning a Dubai international environmental citation in February 2002.

Called Bang (brother) Idin, he loves to talk about how he fell in love with conservation. It all began 12 years ago when he saw a young man hunting a young monkey near his home. He stopped the hunter, saved the monkey and read the stranger the riot act.

"It was then that I realized that the river and the woods had changed for the worse. Nothing was still the same from our childhood and nobody seemed to care about it," he said.

"Many species of fish and animals in the river and the forest that used to be a source of livelihood for locals had gone," said Chaeruddin, who owns 30 goats.

So he began doing something to restore the Pesanggrahan River and the forest in the 1990s. He began by telling his neighbors, both adults and children, about the river.

Then, along with some fellow Betawis, he began a campaign called "Saving What Remains". They tried to restore the green area to its original condition. They collected data about the animals and trees once found in the area.

"When a tree is felled, we plant a new one in its place," he said.

For three years, he and his neighbors gathered along the banks of the river every week. Each was assigned to find seeds for a particular plants to be reintroduced.

In 1994, their work began to bear fruit. Some 4,000 trees from various species were planted in a 40 hectare area, which had been divided into a number or management zones for each person to oversee.

His neighbors lovingly called Chaeruddin crazy when between 1995 and 1996 he released thousands of fry into the river, believing the fish would live and multiply better in their natural habitat than in a pond.

Chaeruddin proved his courage when in the beginning of his environmental campaign he lodged protests against a number of property developers building luxury houses along the river. He and his friends torn down walls along the river separating the luxury houses from his neighborhood.

"Many housing compounds in Jakarta have neglected the environment," said Chaeruddin, a father of two, Widuri Indahwati, 20, and Ario Salakat, 16.

Many residential estates in Jakarta, he pointed out, have illegally encroached on river areas. And many developers have turned green areas into parks and neglect water catchment areas.

Chaeruddin's vision of conservation has five objectives: saving the environment, saving historical legacies, boosting economic benefits, developing tourist objects and saving cultural treasures.

His most visible project is the regreening of the Pesanggrahan River area stretching over a distance of eight kilometers. The campaign is being carried out by Sangga Buana, the farming and environmental group Chaeruddin chairs.

The effort has been joined by students, non-governmental organizations and environmental activists. The Jakarta administration has also lent its support, donating seeds in 1998.

"We have planted some 17,000 trees now," he said. The area now has fruit trees, shade trees and medicinal plants.

Chaeruddin, who has drawn some lessons from the development of Mount Pangrango in West Java, believes that conservation must be of educational value.

A forest or river ecosystem, for example, can be turned into a suitable site for environmental education, particularly for children, who will benefit from studying in the real world.

"Eight Jakarta high schools have implemented environmental education in the Pesanggrahan River area," he said, adding that thanks to his conservation activities his elder daughter is able to study free of charge at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.

Chaeruddin believes that conservation also means preserving historical artifacts that may exist in a particular area. In Karang Tengah, archeological sites are well-preserved.

Chaeruddin also wants his conservation efforts to benefit locals economically, so he is attempting to make Karang Tengah Jakarta's largest fruit producer.

"The melinjo trees planted two years ago are now ready for picking. Some day there will be a lot of durian from this area," he said. The melinjo is a tree that bears edible leaves and fruit.

The Pesanggrahan conservation area is home to long-tailed monkeys, 17 birds species and various mammals as well as reptiles. And fish are abundant in this 12-meter wide river.

The South Jakarta tourism office has included Pesanggrahan River in its catalog of places to visit.

The indigenous Betawi in Karang Tengah still follow many of their old traditions. They regularly organize rites or perform Betawi arts for wedding ceremonies and religious or national holidays. Some Betawi folk arts are still performed here.

"The indigenous residents know environmental management very well. They also have a philosophy: if you know your culture, you know yourself and understand the significance of the environment," he said.