Economic Disputes and Environmental Woes in Indonesia’s Booming East Kalimantan
Rapid population growth and economic development have generated headaches for economic planners. Indonesian authorities have hoped to turn the core area of the province around Samarinda into a major food production zone, but according to a recent article in the Jakarta Post, overlapping land claims and mining disputes are “threatening to scuttle” the entire project. Coal mining has been held back by a legal dispute pitting London’s Churchill Mining Plc against Indonesian’s Nusantara Group over what is reported to be the “world’s seventh-largest undeveloped coal asset.” Churchill recently announced that it would seek international arbitration against Indonesia, claiming that “it has been subjected to a sustained campaign to expropriate its rights as a legitimate foreign investor…”
Environmental issues also loom large in East Kalimantan. Although most of the province is devoted to commercial logging and agriculture, sizable areas have been set aside for natural preservation, including the 2,000 square kilometer Kutai National Park, noted for its orangutan population. A recent report, however, claims that “Orangutans in Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan face a bleak future unless urgent measures are taken to stop wildlife poaching and illegal logging in the ostensibly protected area.” Local elephant populations are also in trouble. In late February, the Jakarta Globe reported that a herd of starving elephants was “ransacking villages for food in the Tulin Onsoi subdistrict of Nunukan, East Kalimantan, destroying farms and angering residents who are threatening to kill the protected animals.” According to local residents, “the forest where elephants used to live had been razed by palm oil plantations and mining companies.” The Borneo elephant, also known as the pygmy elephant, is a severely endangered animal. Scientists are unsure whether it forms a separate subspecies of the Asian elephant.
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