Environmental Problems of Indonesia

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Indonesia is an archipelago which is located in Southeast Asia and composed of 17,508 islands, only 6,000 of which are inhabited. It is a predominantly Muslim country with a total population of 245,452,739 as of July 2006. The current environmental issues in Indonesia are “deforestation, water pollution from industrial wastes, sewage, air pollution in urban areas, and smoke and haze from forest fires. ” (CIA World Factbook)

Deforestation in Indonesia results from the combined efforts of legal and illegal loggers, agricultural activities, both large scale plantations and subsistence agriculture, and forest fires secondary to forest conversion. Logging activities alone during a sixteen-year period from 1990 up to 2005 reduced Indonesia’s forest area of 88,495,000 hectares by 31. 72% or 28,072,000 hectares. This made Indonesia the number one source of tropical timber in the world today.

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More than US$5 billion is being generated from this industry every year, from some 48 million hectares of forest devoted to the harvesting of tropical timber under numerous logging concessions. This concession area represents more than half of the remaining forest cover of Indonesia. However, according to Nabiel Makarim, the Environment Minister for Indonesia, the licensed logging operations in the country which covers about 800,000 hectares a year represents only 25% of the total logging operations occurring in Indonesia – 75% is being done illegally, costing the country an estimated US$1 billion in revenue loss every year.

The illegally-cut logs are being sneaked out of the country to destinations like Singapore, Malaysia, and other Asian countries in spite of a ban on log exportation. (Mongabay. com) Deforestation is endangering wildlife species found in Indonesia’s forests. Consider these figures: “3,305 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, 31. 1 percent are endemic and 9. 9 percent are [already] threatened. Indonesia is [also] home to at least 29,375 species of vascular plants, of which 59. 6 percent are endemic. (Mongabay. com. 2006) Knight (2002) once reported for Asia Times Online about a field survey which claimed to have discovered a very rich lowland forest in the island of Sumatra. This lowland forest, called the Tesso Nilo, which has an area of only 1,600 square kilometers was described by Andrew Gillison , the survey leader, as the “planet’s richest terrestrial biological diversity. ” According to Gillison, he was very amazed by their discovery of 218 species of vascular plants in an area of only 200 square meters.

The survey team, however, was concerned because the Tesso Nilo was already being cleared by illegal loggers and by the Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper Company for conversion to plantations of Acacia and Pulp. In 1985, only 600,000 hectares were planted to oil-palm in Indonesia. However, when the demand for biofuel increased, the oil-palm plantations immediately grew to over 4 million by 2006. This agricultural venture contributed greatly to deforestation because it provided the necessary excuse for the clearing of virgin forests.

While the government has already declared “clear-cutting virgin rainforests” illegal, the same was allowed provided that the act would pave the way for the conversion of the rainforests to oil-palm plantations. The environmentalists on the ground were again alerted by that government policy. They were particularly concerned for the fate of 361 new species found in the Island of Borneo from 1994 up to 2004, which could be endangered by a planned two-million-hectare forest conversion to oil-palm plantation in Borneo with government support and Chinese financial assistance. (Mongabay. com)

This practice of converting virgin forests to oil-palm plantations did not only affect wildlife species. It also caused air pollution, aside from destroying property. Indonesians learned early on that the most efficient method of clearing the forests prior to conversion was by burning everything on them. They would do it every year before the monsoon rains were expected to fall. Unfortunately, when the burning of the forest coincided with the el nino phenomenon, or very dry weather, the forest fires always went uncontrolled and spread with wild abandon, usually clearing more than the target area.

Some instances of these forest fires were the one in Borneo which covered 3. 7 million hectares and the fires which coincided with el nino which burned more than 2 million hectares, resulting to losses in the area of $9. 3 billion. These fires and their resulting haze also strained relations between Indonesia and her Southeast Asian neighbors because of the adverse effects they caused on ecology, health, and the economy of the countries in the region. Moreover, it was reported that forest fires in Borneo and Sumatra had killed about 1000 orangutans in 2006. Mongabay. com) Another environmental problem besetting Indonesia is air pollution. A World Bank officer stationed in Jakarta had estimated that air pollution is costing the Indonesian economy more than $400 million a year. Because of air pollution, respiratory tract disease has become one of the principal causes of death in the country. Identified as the major cause of air pollution are the millions of motorized vehicles in the country which are all using either diesel fuel or leaded gasoline.

From around 12 million in 1995, their number surged to about 21 million by 2001. Moreover, a big percentage of those 21 million vehicles were motorcycles which were not equipped with catalytic converters that enable vehicles to reduce their emissions. Prior to the year 2001, the U. S. Center for Disease Control released the findings of a study which measured the lead levels in the blood of a random sampling of children. The research result showed that more than 33% of the samples had lead levels “high enough to potentially adversely affect [their] cognitive development. This study helped to convince the Indonesian government to order the phase out of leaded gasoline effective 2001. By 2003, however, it was evident that the phase out was not successful for a couple of reasons. First, observers said that the government order for the phase out was complied with only by government vehicles numbering around 315,000 in 2003. Since the total registered vehicles in Jakarta during that time was about 5 million, the compliance by the public vehicles did not matter much. The air over Jakarta stayed as one of the most polluted in the world.

Another reason for the failure, according to some people, was the fact that the cash-strapped, government-owned, Petramina Oil Company was not able to produce enough unleaded gasoline to effectively support the phase out program of the government. (Energy Information Administration. 2004) As discussed earlier, forest fires were among the causes of air pollution in Indonesia. The fires that occurred during the years 1997 and 1998 were considered particularly harmful, burning a total of almost 10 million hectares and causing a haze which affected the entire Southeast Asia. Energy Information Administration. 2004) Meanwhile, the World Resources Institute (1996) said that residents account for “41 percent of particulate matter [in the air], largely from the burning of solid waste by households and by refuse recyclers [while] industry contributes the greatest share of sulfur oxides. ” However, it said that emissions from motor vehicles were still the most harmful with “44 percent of particulates, 89 percent of hydrocarbons, 73 percent of nitrogen oxides, and 100 percent of lead. ” Indonesia also faces serious problems with her surface water and its groundwater supply.

One of the major causes for this is the lack of proper sanitation practices. Most cities do not have sanitation systems. In fact, more than 90% of households in the capital city of Jakarta have no sewer system connection. Some families are even forced to just throw their waste “directly into rivers and canals” resulting to the contamination not only of the surface water but also their groundwater supply. Because of this, gastrointestinal infections are common. As a matter of fact, “As of 2001, an estimated 90% of Jakarta’s shallow wells were polluted by domestic waste. Water resources are likewise affected by industrial waste. The State Minister for the Environment was expected to issue a report acknowledging the dumping by plants and factories of their untreated liquid wastes directly into waterways. (Energy Information Administration. 2004) The information found in the report of the Energy Information Administration in 2004 parallels those gleaned from a document of the World Resources Institute dated 1996 which said that the outlets for the wastewater in Indonesian cities were still antiquated systems of open ditches.

This means that little has changed between 1996 and 2004. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reacted to the forest fires which occurred in 1998 by helping the country improve its fire fighting capability. They volunteered to train the Indonesian fire fighters and provided modern fire fighting and communications equipment. They even provided specially designed aircraft for the purpose.

At the same time, the Indonesian government started a series of cooperative programs with the government of Germany which included the “Promotion of Sustainable Forest Management in East Kalimantan (SFMP) and Integrated Forest Fire Management. ” (Building Human Security in Indonesia. 2001) In the field of sanitation, the Indonesian government has been taking steps to improve the lot of the communities. Working side by side with the local people, they introduced marked improvements in cities such as “paved footpaths with side drains, sanitary facilities, garbage carts and waste collection stations, and public health centers. (World Resources Institute) In the problem of deforestation, restoring Indonesia’s rainforest will only be possible by declaring a moratorium on the cutting of timber for whatever purpose even for several decades only. However, this will remain a remote possibility unless the pressure from debtor countries to force Indonesia to clear her forests in order to pay her debts is eased. Non-timber products that could be harvested from her rainforest through careful, sustainable forest management might be enough to provide for the needs of Indonesians if only debtor countries could be made to step aside and momentarily stop the pressure.

This has been repeatedly demanded by nongovernmental organizations, especially in third world countries to, no avail because “The conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund often force heavily indebted countries to sell their natural resources far in excess of sustainable exploitation. ” In other words, the debt crisis must first be resolved before any move to save the forest and wildlife could be possible. (Revington. 1992) Experience has shown that without the need to rapidly exploit one’s natural resources for debt repayments, non-timber forest products could help sustain a country’s economy.

For instance, more than half of the protein requirements of the peoples of Papua, New Guinea and West Africa were provided by animals found in the forest; more than 2 million inhabitants of the Amazon River rely on “rubber, Brazil nuts and other ‘minor’ forest products without damaging the biological integrity of the rainforest. ” One study made in Peru found that “the economic value of the minor forest products, including fruits, resins and medicines which were actually being marketed, exceeded the value of using the forest for timber by nine to one. ” (Revington. 992) If Indonesia really wants to solve her environmental problems, stricter environmental laws must be enacted and firmly enforced, especially laws involving logging, both legal and illegal, which are nurtured by corruption. Leaded gasoline must be completely phased out, efficient sewerage system must be achieved, and an operative forest fire management put in place to prevent the occurrence of further intentional or unintentional forest fires. As in the case of Indonesia, air pollution is also one of the principal environmental problems of Thailand.

As a matter of fact, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) rated the air over Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, as one of the most polluted air in the world as of 1992, causing as much as one million people to be afflicted by respiratory diseases and allergic reactions. In 2001 alone, an estimated 3,300 premature deaths resulted from particulate matter inhalation. Some 17,000 patients were admitted in hospitals and authorities placed the total cost for health care for these people at $6. 3 billion.

The major cause for air pollution in Bangkok had been identified as the air pollutants emitted by millions of motor vehicles caught in heavy, congested traffic in the urban area. (EIA. 2003) Consider, for instance, the fact that the total number of vehicles registered in Thailand reached 20,698,779 in the year 2000. While only about 4. 5 million of this total had Bangkok registration, it was found that the number of vehicles which were actually being driven in the streets of Bangkok during the year exceeded 12 million, or more than 60% of the total vehicles registered in the entire country. Srisurapanon & Wanichapun, n. d. ) In order to address the urban pollution in the Bangkok area, the government started initiating various programs aimed at reducing vehicular emission as early as 1993. Owners of vehicles with engines over 1600 cc were required to install catalytic converters effective January 1, 1993, while those whose vehicles had engines below 1600 cc. were ordered to have their catalytic converters ready by June 1, 1993.

Two years later, in 1995, a vehicular emission standard was established patterned after that of the European Union. To compel adherence to the standard, the two authors said that elements of the “Police Department, Land Transport Department, Department of Pollution Control, and Bangkok Metropolitan. Administration” conducted roadside inspections and penalized erring drivers and vehicle owners. The following year, the use of leaded gasoline was banned in Thailand and was replaced by unleaded gasoline effective January 1, 1996.

In addition to the development of “an elevated sky-train system and a subway system,” traffic rules and regulations were strictly enforced to allow for a faster flow of traffic, to further reduce motor vehicle emission caused by traffic congestion. (Srisurapanon and Wanichapun. n. d. )


Building Human Security in Indonesia. (2001). (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://www. preventconflict. org/portal/main/background_environment. php) CIA World Factbook. (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://www. cia. gov/cia/publications/factbook/index. html) EIA. (2003). Thailand: Environmental Issues. Country Analysis Briefs. (Retrieved March 27, 2007 from: http://www. eia. doe. gov/emeu/cabs/thaienv. html) Energy Information Administration. (2004). Indonesia: Environmental Issues. (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://www. eia. doe. gov/emeu/cabs/indoe. html) Knight, D. (2003). Indonesia’s record-breaking forest disappearing fast. Asia Times Online. (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://www. atimes. com/se-asia/DB06Ae03. html) Mongabay. com. (2006). Indonesia. (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://rainforests. mongabay. com/20indonesia. tm) Revington, J. (1992). Stopping Tropical Deforestation. New Renaissance Magazine. (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://www. ru. org/stopping-deforestation. htm) Srisurapanon, V. & Wanichapun, C. (n. d. ). Environmental Policies in Thailand and Their Effects. King Mongkut’s University of Technology. (Retrieved March 27, 2007 from: http://www. un. org/esa/gite/iandm/viroatpaper. pdf) World Resources Institute. (1996). The Challenge of environment deterioration in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Retrieved March 26, 2007 from: http://pubs. wri. org/pubs_content_text. cfm? ContentID=927)

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Environmental Problems of Indonesia. (2017, Mar 27). Retrieved from


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