Amid the daily headaches of how to pay the bills and what to eat, environmental issues may seem unimportant or merely something to worry about — in the future.
However, this environmental future has increasingly encroached upon the present, and a senior official said on Wednesday that it had arrived.
“We have a very fragile state of environment now, with so many problems … Don’t talk about its negative impacts on future generations, because we’re already facing them now,” Deputy for Environmental Conservation Sudariyono at the office of the State Minister of the Environment told The Jakarta Post.
Ismid Hadad of the Kehati Foundation, an environmental organization founded by former environment minister Emil Salim, shared Sudariyono’s concern and said that unless Indonesia made amends for its poor handling of the environment, the country might cease to exist.
“This archipelago may sink one day; we’re looting our forests, overexploiting our coral reefs. All this will lead to the global warming, which will raise the sea level and we can say goodbye to our country,” he said.
Annually compiled data at the conservation office shows that various pollutants affect at least 5.2 million people in the country, most of them children, who suffer from respiratory diseases, dysentery, cholera and dengue fever as a result, sometimes fatally.
This is comparatively insignificant in light of the many deaths and great financial loss caused by natural disasters such as floods, landslides, drought and famine, as well as global warming.
Many simply blame these tragedies on the deteriorating condition of the environment, without taking into account the “who” factor — as in who was responsible, Sudariyono said.
According to the state environment office’s estimate, illegal logging, clear-cutting, open-pit mining, forest fires and rotating cultivation have damaged at least 57 million hectares of the country’s 120.35 million hectares of forest. The annual deforestation rate has reached 3.8 million hectares over the past few years.
In addition, the construction of shrimp farms and fish hatcheries, as well as residential and commercial buildings, has resulted in the loss of 31 percent of Indonesia’s 4.25 million hectares of mangrove forests.
Largely triggered by this unchecked environmental degradation, the natural disasters in 2002 almost paralyzed the country. At least 112,000 hectares of agricultural fields dried up and farmers experienced crop failures spanning 10,181 hectares, which inflicted whopping losses of Rp 407.52 billion (US$47.94 million).
That year also witnessed most parts of the country submerged by massive flooding, with water surging at a depth of five meters in some areas. The floods were followed by landslides that claimed dozens of lives and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Not only does massive deforestation reduce the absorption capability of soil, it also reduces the supply of fresh groundwater and its fitness for consumption.
The negative impact of a low water supply is compounded by the fact that, in most homes, septic tanks are located too close to groundwater sources.
“The water is heavily contaminated with bacteria; talk about health issues. Besides this, buildings are everywhere, leaving little space for water catchment areas in many major cities,” said Sudariyono.
Of equal concern is man’s impact on the country’s marine and aerial environment. The depletion of coral reefs across the country damages the marine ecosystem and may interrupt the food chain, as this means lesser habitats for marine animals.
In this vast archipelagic country surrounded on all sides by the sea, fish and other maritime products are chief food sources for its citizens.
Sudariyono reminded that 60 percent of Indonesia’s coral reefs are in dire condition. Coral reefs are being destroyed daily by illegal fish bombing and quarrying for construction materials.
“What’s important is to change the mind-set of the public, especially the top leaders. As long as the government doesn’t change its stance on environmental issues, these horrible things will continue,” Sudariyono stressed.