Economic Rights, Environmental Management and Conflict in Indonesia

Tuesday 7 February 2006, by Alex HILL

Since Indonesia’s economic collapse in 1997, and the fall of the Suharto rule that it precipitated, Indonesia has been struggling to rebuild its economy, while implementing a range of democratic reforms. While a great deal of success has been achieved, as was evidenced by 2004’s peaceful elections wherein the nation experimented for the first time with complete suffrage in a direct vote for the president, a number of smouldering regional conflicts, and a general feeling that the past economic growth and the current recovery are not being shared equally across the nation, pose a continuing threat to Indonesia’s fledgling reforms. This action seeks to assist community-based recovery in Indonesia’s Eastern provinces (Central Sulawesi, Malukus and Papua), and there-by address the roots of conflict in each area, thus helping to strengthen Indonesia’s democratic processes as well as its economic footing.

Poverty, lost economic rights and conflict are closely tied in Indonesia. Despite being a country rich in natural resources, the concentration of wealth and capacities in the capital has left out many of the groups living in the distant regions. In Papua, Sulawesi and Maluku a loss of land rights has lead to displacement, migration and poverty for many communities. This has aggravated local jealousies and fuelled conflicts between local ethno-social groups and between local populations and the security forces. By bringing together a program that supports economic rights, improved NGO capacities, the promotion of sustainable livelihoods and conflict resolution, the proposed action address the root causes of poverty and conflict in two of Indonesia’s critical regions.
Environmental Management and Land Rights

Unsustainable environmental practices have put great stress on communities in Papua, Maluku and Sulawesi. Poor agricultural, forestry and fishery practices are degrading the lands and ocean upon which most rely. At the same time outside interests are leaving a legacy of large-scale environmental destruction, while returning few of the profits from their industries back to the local communities. The pace environmental destruction in Sulawesi is particularly alarming and is posing a great threat to the livelihoods of the local communities. According to Global Forest Watch, forest cover in Sulawesi decreased by 29% between 1987 and 1995, and continues to decrease at a rapid pace. This is putting a great strain on local communities, by altering rainfall patterns, poisoning coral reefs with silty runoff, and forcing farmers to put more pressure on their lands to meet their families needs.

In the past environmental regulations and land concessions were determined in Jakarta, often being out-of-step with the needs and risks in the outlying localities. However under Indonesia’s ongoing decentralisation process new powers to grant resource concessions and design environmental regulations have been given to the district level. This offers an opportunity to environmental management based on local input, which in turn would better protect local resources and support democratisation in Indonesia.

Finally there is a need to strengthen peoples’ land tenure and economic rights (i.e. rights to fishing, water, accessing markets). In the past, the central government has retained the right to redistribute lands held by indigenous communities, with little or no compensation offered. This has undermined past development programs, and has made it less appealing for communities to engage in local improvements due to uncertainties over land tenure. Under the decentralisation process, there is a need and opportunity to work with village head, county administrations and district officials to apply the new district powers to the protection of local land and economic rights, thus reinforcing traditional tenure systems and encouraging local development over the long term.

Most of the training and management capacities within Indonesia’s civil society sector are concentrated in NGOs based in Java and Bali. While these groups can provide excellent services to CBOs and communities in the outlying regions, they are too few in number and are too over worked to respond to all the needs. This is effectively slowing the process of community development across Indonesia, and particularly in the Eastern provinces, which lie the furthest away.

Civil society and faith-based groups in the conflict-affected regions are taking a more prominent role in supporting a range of initiatives that address key issues confronting Indonesians in their every day lives. Local peace and development practitioners are responding to challenges by supporting equitable resource management systems, tackling poverty and isolation in indigenous communities, mediating flare-ups of violent conflict, and opening spaces for moderate political and religious dialogues. Local NGO-led economic development through projects that are open to all without regard to gender, religion or ethnic/linguistic origin, have shown much potential for buffering and resisting violence in the area. These groups have also managed to access many of the remote IDP communities passed over by government programs.

However, local groups tend to be focussed on one specific area of activity and are often too busy to engage in programs outside of their core focus. It has been proposed by many of the groups active in the Eastern provinces that there is a need to strengthen links between local CBOs and NGOs with diverse skill sets, thus creating regional networks that can respond to emergencies more quickly, carry-out training for field workers and design broad-based community development and poverty alleviation programs, without having to wait for the availability of experts from Java or Bali.

Overall the target group (IDPs, fisherfolk, smaller holder farmers) rely on basic indigenous knowledge to make a living. The Field schools and action research will access this and share it among community members in an non-intimidating manner. These communities have seen the devastation caused by struggles over land and economic rights, and the loss of environmental resources, and are thus very concerned to avoid these problems in the future. Finally, many of the groups in conflict affected communities have witnessed first-hand the limitations of the old governance systems, and are ready to work toward a new, more equitable and democratic local governance model as their hope for a better future for their children.

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