The Environment -
Resource Boom or Grand Theft?


"Indigenous peoples have the right to own, develop, control and use the lands and territories, including the total environment of the lands, air, waters, coastal seas, flora and fauna and other resources which they have traditionally owned otherwise occupied or used. This includes the right to the full recognition of their laws, traditions and customs, land-tenure systems, and institutions for the development and management of resources, and the right to effective measures by States to prevent any interference with, alienation of or encroachment upon these rights. "
Logging is one of the major causes of environmental destruction in West Papua. As Indonesia's own forest resources decline, it has turned its attention to West Papua. Indonesia's forest practices generally have little or no attention paid to the environmental impact of logging. Many of the indigenous people of West Papua are threatened as vast tracts of land have been granted as concessions to timber companies, a practice which is having severe social and physical consequences.
The island of New Guinea is one of the most biologically diverse in the world. There are species of flora and fauna in common with Australia, such as some marsupials, the bird of paradise and eucalyptus trees. Numerous species, unique to the island, are threatened by logging and other development projects.
Second only to the Amazon, the island of New Guinea has one of the largest tracts of tropical rainforest left in the world. West Papua's forests, rich in bio-diversity, account for approximately 34.6 million hectares or 24 per cent of Indonesia's total forested area of 143 million hectares. Over 27.6 million hectares of forest in West Papua have been designated as production forest.

Indonesia has encouraged the development of a large timber-processing industry by banning the export of raw logs and has become one of the world's largest exporters of plywood. As Indonesia's own forest resources decline in Sumatra and Kalimantan (there is an estimated rate of deforestation of about 1.6 million ha annually), the forestry industry has now targetted West Papua. This is also part of Indonesia's "Go East" development program. Four Jakarta-based timber tycoons have divided West Papua between them, this domination of the resource being achieved with support from the military government. To exploit the country's resources fully the government has given the construction of roads a high priority. These roads are being constructed in previously inaccessible areas.
The companies operating in West Papua's forests include PT Djayanti Group, PT Barito Pacific Timber Group, PT Porodisa Group, PT Kayo Lapis Indonesia Group, PT Mutiara Group, PT You Lim Sari, PT Astra (Indonesia), Marubeni, Sagindo (Japan), and Mamberamo (Australia). Lavalin (Canada) has been engaged in survey work.
According to government regulations, logging in concessions is selective, but as in other tropical countries, in practice these regulations are rarely enforced. Logging roads are carelessly constructed, leading to substantial soil erosion and consequent silting of rivers and irregularity of river flow. Roads are routinely built over minor streams; the result is a roadside string of standing pools, which produce unusually high concentrations of mosquitoes and present the threat of malaria and other diseases. Logs are skidded out to the main road by heavy machinery, resulting in a dense network of bulldozer tracks. The heavy machinery destroys trees used by local people for food sources and traditional medicines.
These disruptions jeopardise the long term recovery of the forests especially if we also take into account the large amount of illegal logging and the fact there seems to be little attempt to replant previously logged areas. The Transmigration program has also been responsible for the destruction of over 900,000 ha of rainforest and this destruction will continue as more land is cleared for settlements and agriculture. The danger is that if no action is taken to stop this destruction, West Papua could lose two thirds of its forests by the year 2000.
One of the most recent conflicts is between the Moi people and the Intimpura Timber company. Like other indigenous communities in West Papua, the Moi way of life is being threatened. Under Indonesian national law all land, not being actively used for agriculture, housing or industry, is state property. In 1990 the government granted a logging concession of 339,000 ha to the Intimpura Timber Company, without informing the traditional landowners. The Moi people have resisted the encroachment of the company on their land, and have made representations to the company, local government, forestry service and the army (in Indonesia, the army assists in national development and was in fact the initial owner of the logging concession). However, the government, company and the army remain firm in their policy of not recognising any form of land rights. As the Moi have continued to protest they have been accused of being "security disturbers" (the official term for the OPM, and used to silence any form of indigenous protest).

"Indigenous knowledge, culture and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment."

Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, The United Nations Commission on Human Rights


Top | Contents | Cover | Terms | Map