Wasior tragedy: a lesson learned for a future planning

Freddy Pattiselanno (Faculty of Animal Science, Fisheries  and Marine Sciences Universitas Negeri Papua, Manokwari); Agustina Y.S. Arobaya (Faculty of Forestry Universitas Negeri Papua, Manokwari)

Landslides and flooding on October 4th in Wasior, Papua Barat killed dozens of people left others missing and cause lots of people injured. Infrastructures including houses, offices, and public facilities such road, building and bridge are damaged.

Pros and cons about the cause of a disaster is now becoming a debatable issue concerning land use conversion for extraction industries and the development of some areas into new regencies through the program of territorial division locally known as “pemekaran”.  However, others claimed it was a natural disaster, in which human being is not involved.   In reality, the term “natural” has consequently been disputed because the events simply are not hazards or disasters without human involvement. In this case, the impact of humans’ alteration of the ecosystem has led to widespread and/or long-lasting consequences. To some extends we may should carefully consider those issues. Facts on the province development and ecological approaches to the development may give us clear description on the last disaster occurred in Wasior, Papua Barat.

Firstly, previously, Irian Jaya (include Papua and Papua Barat Provinces) consisted of 404.660 km2 land areas, or based on the prediction of Forestry Planology Board (BAPLAN) has approximately 42 million hectares land, of 80% was tropical forest.  On the other hand, with more or less 22% of Indonesia’s land areas, this region has only two to three million peoples or equals to 1,5% of the total Indonesian population, so it was a province with the lowest level of population density in Indonesia by about 5 per km2.

This situation mixed with other politic considerations gave impressed to the Indonesian Government during the era of Megawati to launch INPRES No. 1/2003, 27 January 2003 related to the establishment of Irian Jaya Barat Province (known as Papua Barat Province) and Irian Jaya Tengah from the main province of Papua.  This followed by developing new regency in both Papua and Papua Barat provinces.  Currently, the total regency and city in Papua and Papua Barat is 40 compared to 9 during the era of Irian Jaya Province.

Secondly, land use competition include extractive industries such mining operation, forest concessions and agriculture plantation (oil palm, cacao and coffee) tend to increase from time to time.  The development of forestry sector was noted by the increase in forest concession operations. There are 74 forest concessions were registered and 16 of them were classified as non-active concessions, and data compiled by Conservation International in the Rapid Assessment of Conservation and Economy (RACE) indicated that approximately 52.000 hectares of forest areas were annually cleared in Papua.

The expansion of commercial plantation increased sharply from 1993 to 1998 which is noticed by the rapid growth of private plantation industries from 12.668 ha to 33.600 ha or on the average was about 8.200 ha/year within the six year periods. Until 1998, the plantation areas in Papua covered more or less 128.183 ha with those which received the principal license for operation reached 1.263.742 ha, and 84%, was oil palm plantations.

In addition to land use competition, some areas were converted into mining concessions recognized as leading sector in boosting up Papua economy. This is true because about 50 to 60 percent of the Gross National Domestic Product (PDRB) of Papua supplied from mining, oil and natural gas. The high dependency of local government to extracted industries sometimes neglected the negative impact of the operational cost on the environment.  The effect could be clearly seen from the physically change of ecology niche that lead to threat other biotas surrounding the concession areas. Based on the 2001 report of Mining Advocacy Connection (JATAM), total area which had allocated for the mining industries grasped approximately 11 million hectares or around 25% of the Papua Province land size.

Thirdly, the shift of land use purposes to provide new local governments with facilities and infrastructures, at the same time compete with expansion of the extraction industries.  Local government try to maximize the Regional Source Income (PAD) through expansion of some extraction industries lead to mismanagement practices which only take the demand of natural resources without contemplate the impact on the environment.  The requirement of land areas for both government and community’s infrastructures sometimes is foremost to erect the presence of new government authority for having sympathy in order to evince the physical indicators for the areas development.

Therefore, clearance of forest for the demand of development is more extensive, and in fact leaves those areas without any available support vegetation. Consequently, the environment loss water catchment coverage which can reduce the land capacity to hold water.  In this case, the unsustainability of forest ecosystems will directly affect the biota including human being for example, because of the risk of floods and land slides.

While the human impact on forest ecosystems has been profound throughout history, only in the past few decades has the human influence spread comprehensively and simultaneously in virtually all forests. By far the greatest impact has been in forest clearing, to create new agricultural lands and to harvest valuable timber, as well as introduce mining industries and construct new infrastructures.

On the other hand, climate change phenomenon is in fact, difficult to control.  Sometimes long rainy season occur to the certain areas while drought season take place in other places longer than the normal condition.  What we can do is enhance the awareness of environment friendly development. Long term sustainable development is also important to consider.  Lesson learned from other parts of the world such as occurred in Pakistan Indus River on August 2010, or even other places in Indonesia should be careful taken into account.

Furthermore, new tools and techniques, such as remote-sensing imagery, simulation modeling, geographic information systems, and the increased capacity of data processing can help enrich understanding of both the dynamism of forest ecosystems and weather conditions, and thus help enhance human capacity to adapt to changing conditions.

Finally, ecosystem approaches to maintaining forest sustainability should recognize that all environmental policy is best considered as the testing of a hypothesis, where proposed management actions are expected to target precise objectives and lead to predicted results. In this sense, ecosystem management is always an experiment, always an exercise in learning from experience. An essential element to feed learning back into ecosystem management is monitoring, which provides the information basis for modifying management actions in light of experience.

Note: Some pictures are taken from different website sources

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