Indonesia - Environment
Forest fires blanketing Southeast Asia in choking haze were on track in 2015 to become among the worst on record, with a prolonged dry season hampering efforts to curb the crisis. Malaysia, Singapore and large expanses of Indonesia suffered for weeks from acrid smoke billowing from fires on plantations and peatlands that were being illegally cleared by burning.
The crisis grips the region nearly every year during the dry season, flaring diplomatic tensions among the neighbours as flights are grounded, schools close and pollution levels reach hazardous highs. The fires also contribute significantly to climate change. The NASA-linked Global Fire Emissions Database estimated around 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases have been released as a result of this year's fires - roughly equivalent to Germany's entire annual output.
Centuries-old patterns of resource exploitation in Indonesia began to change very rapidly in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The rice-growing peasantry is shrinking as a result of mechanization, fertilizer use, and intensification of agriculture; the coastal commercial sector has been transformed by overfishing and new technology for interisland commerce; and traditional swidden farming communities of the upland forest have been increasingly crowded out by industrial logging.
The cumulative effects of rising population density, urbanization, agricultural intensification, resource extraction, and manufacturing have had a significant impact on the Indonesian environment in recent decades. Home to the world’s largest reef system, one of its largest expanses of rain forest, and some of its richest areas of biodiversity, Indonesia is now experiencing serious environmental deterioration.
Indonesia's growing economy, combined with a lack of government controls, has adversely impacted the environment. Most notable are the increases in industrial pollution and the increasing concentration of industry surrounding major urban centers. Future economic growth is expected to continue this trend. The types of industries that contribute to environmental contamination throughout Indonesia include textiles, wood and paper products, processed rubber, cement, oil and natural gas refineries, mining (gold, nickel, copper, and bauxite, especially in southern Irian Jaya and northern Sulawesi), chemical fertilizers, steel, chemical production, leather tanning, and spices. Indonesia's chemical industry is the largest polluter in the industrial sector. The major agricultural products are rice, copra, rubber, palm oil, cassava, sugarcane, and coffee.
Over the past three decades, the rapid pace of Indonesia's industrial development and the lack of pollution controls have seriously impacted the health and welfare of the people and the environment. Disregard for environmental regulations is evident in the industrial discharges of hazardous materials that frequently contaminate water, air, soil, and food. Poor waste management practices reportedly have resulted in adverse health effects, mostly among the poorer populations who work and live in and near these contaminated areas.
During the past 20 years, environmental awareness has increased; however, improvements and enforcement of Indonesia's environmental regulations have not been effective. Hazardous waste disposal standards established in 1994 are not being enforced. Hazardous waste has been deposited in landfills, dumped in rivers along with other industrial waste, and spread on agricultural areas. The Indonesian government has no program for systematic sampling of air, water, or soil.
The overall health risk posed by air pollution in Indonesia is minimal. However, air pollution in major urban centers with large volumes of vehicular traffic, numerous industrial facilities, and smoke from illegal crop burning and seasonal forest fires may reach levels that cause acute respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals. Chronic exposures to some air pollutants in industrialized areas of Indonesia may cause long-term health effects. Air pollution in Indonesia has increased due to rapid industrialization, energy production, urbanization, and an increase in the number of motorized vehicles. The cities on the island of Java reported to have the most severe air pollution are Jakarta and Surabaya; however, other large industrialized cities reportedly have similar air quality issues. Industrial sector emissions account for about 15 percent of total suspended particulates (TSP), 16 percent of nitrogen oxides, and 63 percent of sulfur oxide loading in the atmosphere. Air pollution regulations are stringent but poorly enforced, particularly at the local level. Vehicle emissions, petroleum and natural gas refineries, steel and paper mills, and the burning of refuse and forests have resulted in increased air pollution.
In major urban areas, more than 115,000 small and home-based industries exist, many without pollution control equipment or proper disposal procedures. Industrial emissions, combined with the widespread use of leaded gasoline, have resulted in elevated levels of lead in air and are the primary source of elevated blood lead levels in children. The Indonesian government has been successful in substituting unleaded gas for leaded gas in major urban areas and has reduced leaded gasoline supplies across the country by 50 percent. The Ministry of Environment enacted regulations mandating all new vehicles be equipped with catalytic converters beginning in 2005.
Forest fires in southern and western Kalimantan (Borneo) and southern and eastern Sumatra continue to generate significant amounts of particulate matter in the air, leading to increased cases of respiratory illnesses and reduced visibility. The smoke and particulate contamination also drift across the Malacca Straits and impact Malaysia and southern Thailand. Illegal fires from farmers clearing land in Indonesia and Malaysia create a smoky haze that blankets Southeast Asia during the dry season. Air quality was identified as unhealthy in Kuala Selangor (west of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), as reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In Kalimantan, Indonesia, air quality was reported as moderate to unhealthy, with visibility of less than 100 meters in Palangkaraya District (no specific data are available on air quality levels). The rainy season helps to reduce airborne particulate concentrations from November to March.
Food contamination in Indonesia is a widespread problem; foods from street vendors and small restaurants frequently contain microbial contaminants. Contamination of food with fecal pathogens may result from use of fertilizers derived from human or animal waste, unsanitary food preparation techniques, and improper handling of prepared food products. Even one-time exposure to fecal contamination in food may cause a variety of acute enteric infections.
Industrial facilities damaged by the 26 December 2004 tsunami may have contributed to localized and possibly severe soil contamination. Additionally, inundation of soil with saltwater after the tsunami may have had the greatest impact on soil in some areas. Specific information on soil contamination for Indonesia is not available. In general, chemical contamination of soil is localized to specific areas surrounding industrial facilities and waste disposal sites. Even in such areas, significant exposure to contaminants in soil is unlikely in the absence of windblown dust, active digging, or migration of contaminants from soil into groundwater. As a result, soil contamination usually presents a low risk to human health.
Indonesia lacks consistent, modern methods for handling hazardous wastes. During post-tsunami clean-up operations, the United Nations Environmental Program estimated that Banda Aceh alone had generated between 7 and 10 million cubic meters of waste as a result of the tsunami. Improper disposal of hazardous wastes throughout the country likely contributes to localized soil contamination. Mixed wastes, including hazardous wastes and contaminated debris from the tsunami, likely find their way into the general landfills or are dumped in a convenient location without regard for environmental protection.
Many industrial facilities in Banda Aceh on the island of Sumatra either were totally destroyed or suffered severe damage as a result of the tsunami. The Indonesian government reported that in Banda Aceh, sand and mud deposited on agricultural fields, combined with erosion and salinization, have affected between 10 percent and 15 percent of the area or 5,000 to 7,500 hectares of land, which may be permanently lost. Chemical contaminants from damaged industrial facilities may have been carried inland by the tsunami, resulting in widespread soil contamination. The most likely sources of industrial chemical contamination include petroleum refining and storage facilities, chemical plants, coal-fired and diesel power plants, and manufacturing facilities (cement). Sources of microbial soil contamination include municipal sewer systems, wastewater treatment facilities, and individual septic systems.
Drinking water in Indonesia, particularly in urban areas, may be contaminated with domestic raw sewage, industrial wastes, and fertilizers. Consumption of water contaminated with raw sewage or runoff containing fecal pathogens may cause a variety of acute enteric infections.
The Indonesian government has attempted to regulate discharges of chemicals to surface water and groundwater through administrative, criminal, and civil sanctions. Regulations also are in place to protect coastal waters from waste, oil, and other discharges from ships and maritime facilities. Preservation of water quality through the treatment of industrial and domestic wastewater is the primary policy focus for Indonesia's State Minister of the Environment.
Despite these efforts, municipal water treatment and distribution systems often are subject to microbial contamination through inadequate, obsolete, and leaking infrastructure. Poor waste handling practices and the obsolete drinking water infrastructure also have resulted in the infiltration of industrial effluents into drinking water distribution systems. Indonesia's major water-polluting industries include mining, pulp and paper mills, petroleum refineries, rubber, chemical fertilizers, agriculture, and cement. Despite government laws to control the discharge of hazardous chemicals, bribes to corrupt government officials may preclude effective enforcement of existing environmental regulations.
Sanitation is poor throughout the country, including major urban areas. Local food and water sources (including ice) are heavily contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and viruses to which most US service members have little or no natural immunity. Effective disease surveillance is limited. Only a small fraction of diseases are identified or reported. Diarrheal diseases can be expected to temporarily incapacitate a very high percentage of personnel within days if local food, water, or ice is consumed. Hepatitis A, typhoid fever, hepatitis E, and viral gastroenteritis (e.g., Norovirus) and food poisoning (e.g., Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus) may cause significant outbreaks.
The climate and ecological habitat support large populations of arthropod vectors, including mosquitoes and mites. Significant disease transmission is sustained year-round and countrywide, including urban areas. Serious diseases may not be recognized or reported due to the lack of surveillance and diagnostic capability.
Dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya are the major vector-borne risks in Indonesia, capable of debilitating a high percentage of personnel for up to a week or more. In addition, there are a variety of vector-borne diseases occurring at lower levels, which as a group may constitute a potentially serious opertional risk. Previously undiscovered or uncharacterized arboviral diseases also may be present. Personnel exposed to mosquitoes or other biting vectors are at high risk during day or night, in both urban and rural areas.
President Yudhoyono's administration has significantly increased Indonesia's global profile on environmental issues, and U.S.-Indonesia cooperation on the environment has grown substantially. Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which include rising sea levels and erosion of coastal areas, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, species extinction, and the spread of vector-borne diseases. At the same time, Indonesia faces challenges in addressing the causes of climate change.
Indonesia has the world's second-largest tropical forest and the fastest deforestation rate, making it the third-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, behind China and the U.S. President Yudhoyono pledged at the 2009 G-20 in Pittsburgh to reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 41% below business as usual by 2020, in addition to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. Indonesia continues expanding its constructive engagement in Southeast Asia, within the G-20 and Major Economies Forum, and in other international bodies to encourage other developing countries to adopt and implement ambitious steps to reduce the impacts of global climate change.
In June 2010, President Barack Obama pledged to support U.S.-Indonesia shared goals on climate change through a Science, Oceans, Land Use, Society and Innovation (SOLUSI) partnership and through the establishment of a climate change center. The United States is providing $6.9 million in support – with matching funds from Norway – for the new Indonesia Climate Change Center (ICCC), which will focus on mapping and monitoring of carbon-rich peat lands and tropical forests with expertise from the U.S. Forest Service, bringing the best available science and analysis to policy leaders on key strategies and decisions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
In 2004, President Yudhoyono initiated a multi-agency drive against illegal logging that has significantly decreased illegal logging through stronger enforcement activities. The Department of Justice-sponsored Environmental Crimes Task Force supports this enforcement effort. The State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative negotiated with the Indonesian Ministries of Trade and Forestry the U.S. Government's first Memorandum of Understanding on Combating Illegal Logging and Associated Trade. Presidents George W. Bush and Yudhoyono announced the MOU during President Bush's November 2006 visit to Indonesia. Implementation of the MOU includes collaboration on sustainable forest management, improved law enforcement, and improved markets for legally harvested timber products. This effort will strengthen the enabling conditions for avoiding deforestation, specifically addressing the trade issues that are involved.
The U.S. Government also contributed to the start of the Heart of Borneo conservation initiative to conserve a high-biodiversity, transboundary area that includes parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The three countries launched the Heart of Borneo initiative in February 2007. In 2009, the Governments of Indonesia and the U.S. concluded a Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA1) agreement, and in 2012 are expected to finalize a new TFCA2 agreement. The agreements reduce Indonesia's debt payments to the U.S. over the next 10 years; these funds will be redirected toward tropical forest conservation in Indonesia.
Through the recently signed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact for Indonesia, the Government of Indonesia will implement a Green Prosperity Project totaling $332.5 million to support environmentally sustainable economic growth through enhancing management of forests, peat lands, and other natural resources and deployment of renewable energy.
Indonesia has the world’s greatest repository of marine biological resources and is one of the most important fisheries. It lies at the epicenter of the Coral Triangle, covering just 3 percent of the globe but containing more than half the world’s reefs and three-quarters of all known coral species. Fisheries generate some 20 percent of Indonesia’s GDP, and over 60 percent of the nation’s protein comes from the sea. The number of coastal fishers in Indonesia has increased by over 40 percent in the last 10 years.
President Yudhoyono called for a Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) in August 2007. The Coral Triangle Initiative is a regional plan of action to enhance coral conservation, promote sustainable fisheries, and ensure food security in the face of climate change. In December 2007, the U.S. Government announced its support for the six CTI nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands), and to date the United States is the largest bilateral donor to the CTI. Indonesia hosted the first-ever World Oceans Conference in Manado, North Sulawesi, May 11-15, 2009. The World Oceans Conference was also the venue for the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit, at which leaders from the six CTI nations launched the CTI Regional Plan of Action.
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