Massive deforestation for coal mining may have exacerbated the recent flooding that flooded the eastern part of Indonesian Borneo, the country’s coal core.
Fourteen villages in Berau district, East Kalimantan province, were inundated from May 13 to 18 after heavy rains hit the district, causing the Kelay and Segah rivers to overflow.
Flood waters of up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) inundated 2,507 homes. The local disaster mitigation agency called it is “the biggest flood for at least 10 years”.
The flooding also caused a dike to rupture at a coal mine operated by PT Rantaupanjang Utama Bhakti (RUB) on May 16, adding to the volume of flood waters.
The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an independent watchdog, said the flooding was likely exacerbated by the proliferation of coal mines in the region, both legal and illegal. Jatam identified 94 mining concessions in Berau, including 20 along the Kelay and Segah rivers. He says these companies have left a trail of destruction in their wake by not rehabilitating mining wells in their concessions.
In 2018, there were 123 coal mines in Berau, according to Jatam data.
“We suspect that mining practices in the areas upstream of the Kelay River and the Segah River are the cause of the flooding that occurred this year in Berau district,” Jatam said in a statement. Press.
The concession with the largest number of abandoned wells, 45, belongs to PT Berau Coal. The 118,400 hectare (292,572 acre) concession, an area the size of Los Angeles, stretches from upstream of the Kelai River to the Segah River.
“From the satellite images, it appears that there has been clearing and destruction of forests due to Berau Coal mining activity upstream of the two rivers,” Jatam said.
Berau Coal did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment.
The district of Berau is also a beehive of illegal mining. Jatam identified 11 of these locations in the district.
District environmental department chief Sujadi said his office was working with other local government agencies and the national government to determine the factors that exacerbated this year’s flooding.
“It is possible that the forest cover was cleared, which reduced water uptake,” he said.
Provincial police have launched their own investigation to determine whether mining activity contributed to the scale of the disaster. Police chief Herry Rudolf Nahak said he had deployed officers to check for any illegal mining activity along the two rivers.
“I do not tolerate illegal mines there,” he said told local media.
This is not the first time that widespread flooding has been linked to the mining industry in Indonesian Borneo. In January of this year, the province of South Kalimantan was affected by its worst floods in five decades, which moved over 113,000 people and killed 24.
Environmentalists attributed the flooding to widespread deforestation of oil palm plantations and coal mines. An Indonesian space agency analysis showed that an area of forest twice the size of London had been cleared over the past decade in the flood-affected area of the watershed.
Two severe floods in the space of five months should prompt authorities to take swift action against the mining industry for a long time, Jatam said. He recommended imposing a moratorium on all mining activities in Berau to allow for a thorough environmental assessment of all mining companies there.
“Strictly and openly enforce the law on unruly mining companies,” Jatam said. “[And] immediately recover all environmental damage due to the coal mining activities in Berau.
This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.
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