Webinar Series “Managing the Remaining Forests” series#13 Learning from Disasters

Webinar Series “Managing the Remaining Forests” series#13 Learning from Disasters

Indonesia - 02 February, 2021

What can we learn from disasters? In fact, a lot. At least, it can be seen from the 13th Tropenbos Indonesia webinar event "Managing the Remaining Forests", which this time entitled "Learning from Disasters". This event presented three speakers: Een Irawan Putra, Executive Director of Rekam Nusantara Foundation who is also a Special Staff of the Head of BNPB (National Disaster Management Agency), Edi Purwanto, Director of Tropenbos Indonesia, and Lecturer of FEMA (Faculty of Human Ecology) IPB who is also an expert in Political Ecology Disaster, Soeryo Adiwibowo. More than 200 participants took part in this webinar which was held on Saturday, January 29, 2021.

Although unexpected, disasters are often inevitable. According to BNPB data presented by the Special Staff of the Head of BNPB, Een Irawan Putra, throughout 2020 alone, the number of disasters that occurred in Indonesia reached 2,939 which most disasters were in the form of hydrometeorology disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and landslides that also occurred in forest areas. In addition, there were forest and land fires (karhutla) which 99% were caused by human activity, as evidenced by 80% of the burned land then turned into plantations. There is also human activity that causes non-natural disasters such as mercury waste and that is allegedly also the result of human negligence, such as Covid-19.

According to the Director of Tropenbos Indonesia, Edi Purwanto, the intensity of rain that is too high can exceed the water retention capacity of the forests. Therefore, at a certain point the surface runoff will be the same between forested and non-forested areas. "Forests are only able to control flooding caused by low and moderate intensity rain or less than 100 mm per day," said Edi. That is the reason even watersheds with good forests cannot escape from flooding since ancient times. Moreover, with the triggers of anthropogenic factors such as illegal logging/illegal mining, forest and land fires, infrastructure development and drying of peat swamps which are also accompanied by climate change, the risk of hydro-meteorological disasters such as floods is also increasing.

Taking into account the threat of extreme rainfall and long drought, according to Edi, the lesson that can be taken is the need to increase precautions and to become wiser in managing natural resources. Although natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions are inevitable disasters, hydro-meteorological disasters such as forest and land fires, floods, flash floods, landslides and drought, actually can still be controlled by taking preventive measures.

Unfortunately, villages are often powerless to prevent changes. Edi gave an example of changes in the peat hydrology area between Pawan and Kepulu rivers in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. Based on the analysis of the area map by Tropenbos Indonesia, in 2000 the peat swamp forest in this area was still intact, but in 2006 the open land became wider and it could be seen that illegal gold mining activities (PETI) began. In 2012, it could be seen that there were large oil palm plantations in the peat swamp and the increase of damaged peat swamp forest area due to PETI's activities, and in 2018 the large oil palm plantations were increasingly expanding and the former PETI area was burnt to become open land.

Therefore, according to Edi, the implementation of village authority as mandated in Law No.6/2014 needs to be further enforced. A number of village problems can have implications for disaster vulnerability. Villages that do not yet have the legality of village boundaries, for example, may have implications for confusion over natural resource management authority, neglecting risks to natural resource management, and in the event of a disaster it can lead to unclear parties who are responsible for disaster control, prevention, and management. According to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, to date only 34.7% of the 72,000 villages in Indonesia have clear boundaries and around 13,000 villages are still in conflict status.

Another problem that often surrounds villages is the powerlessness of villages to take advantage of their own natural resource management authority because they are co-opted by the higher authorities. Licensing for the utilization of village natural resources is still under the authority of district and province. Many cases of exploitation of village natural resources such as mining and plantations are beyond the control of the local community and the village government does not have the courage to show authority over their village as mandated by Law No.6 / 2014. "Village authority is defeated by the lex-specialist natural resources regulations such as Forestry, Plantation, Mineral and Mining, or Maritime," said Edi. In other words, the sustainability of the village's natural resources is beyond the village's control.

On the other hand, according to Edi, the village itself has not made natural resource management a priority. Evidently, village funds that can reach 1 billion rupiah per year and can actually be used for natural resource management are in fact still more focused on being used for the development of physical and social facilities rather than for paying attention to environmental management. As a result, prevention of environmental risk disasters has not been implemented. For this reason, according to him, villages need to increase their resilience in facing disasters. In addition, Edi gave several more recommendations such as the need for Disaster Records as a collective memory so that as a nation it is not ignorant of environmental risks, Supra Desa must be alert in providing early warnings of hydrological disasters, and the need for telemetry instrumentation of hydro-meteorological equipment throughout Indonesia to predict and inform disaster vulnerability.

Meanwhile, Disaster Political Ecology expert Soeryo Adiwibowo agrees that environmental disasters occur due to human activity (hydrometry). To be precise, the result of political decisions (with the focus on political economy) supported by various actors ranging from the village level (communities mining gold or clearing forests), to actors at the district, national, and even global levels. Forest fires, for example, a lot of evidence points to large-scale oil palm companies domiciled abroad.

According to Soeryo, hydro-meteorological disasters need to be seen through a political economy approach. Problems related to hydro-meteorological disasters, food sovereignty, or food security will not be separated from the interests of global and local political economy. Therefore according to him, in modern civilization there is almost no landscape that is independent from human’s involvement. Even conservation areas, such as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries or grand forest parks are the result of community social construction. "Ecological changes in modern times have been marked by political economy decisions," he said.

The big floods in Kalimantan, for example, may be true because of the high rainfall, but according to Soeryo, there must be other factors amplifying the problem, for example gold or coal mining in the upstream. Forest and land fires and haze disasters in five provinces in Indonesia have also occurred due to forest conversion or peat swamps, or expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations, as well as gold mining without permits. "Hydrometric disasters often cause environmental injustice to vulnerable groups of people such as small farmers, the poor, in villages and cities. They can't escape,” he said. The typology is almost the same, certain interest is to back-up and keep this situation continues and it is difficult to eradicate. "Can the villagers refuse the mine, for example, which is supported by supra village actors?" he continued.

Soeryo explained, according to the simple political ecology anatomy of hydro meteorological disasters, the root or upstream causes of hydro meteorological disasters include weak law enforcement in eradicating various illegal resource exploitation practices and space utilization. When a disaster occurs, if people look upstream and see changes in the landscape, there must be a power relationship that occurs between local actors where strong actors influence the changes in the landscape and increase its vulnerability to disasters.

The presentations available for dowdload HERE

Watch the recording of webinar: