Indonesians won't stop fighting

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Indonesians won’t stop fighting

by Alex Scrivener


A protester in the Lapindo mud (World Development Movement)

Imagine coming from school to find your house under grey mud and your community destroyed.

This happened to Yora, a young girl from the village of Siring in eastern Java, Indonesia and her father Marsudiyono. And there were many other victims of the Sidoarjo mud volcano, the biggest in the world, in May 2006. The eruption was caused by the fracking. The company, Lapindo Brantas, was started by two big Indonesian companies and the Australian oil firm Santos to extract natural gas from under the town of Sidoarjo.

Yora cannot forget that terrible spring, when her father was forced to give up his job in Bali and fight for compensation for what his family had lost.

‘I did not hear anything at the time. There was a bad smell but none of us knew that it was coming from Lapindo... one day I went to school in the morning and came back to find my house was under mud. Now I have lost many of my friends because everyone was forced to move away.’

Seven years later, Yora, Marsudiyono and the people of the 22 villages which are under a thick layer of mud are still suffering from the irresponsibility of the company. Most of them are still waiting for compensation – Marsudiyono has received only 20 per cent of what he should get legally.

The tragedy of Sidoarjo is one of the many examples of how fossil fuel industries are destroying the lives of so many people across Indonesia. A lot of investment is coming in from other countries, for example the British-listed BHP Billiton, because the government has given out over 11,000 permits for mining companies to develop land and rainforests that local people need to live on.

But there is some hope among the destroyed houses and moon-like land of Sidoarjo district. There, as in many places across Indonesia, local groups are fighting the mining companies and they refuse to stop fighting for justice.

Indonesian activists have said 29 May is the national anti-mining day. In 2013 I was invited by the Indonesian mining advocacy network JATAM to join the local people of Sidoarjo to remember the seventh anniversary of the volcano’s eruption.

I saw the strong decisions of the local people to fight against the powerful foreign companies and local businessmen who are responsible for the eruption. We stood at the edge of kilometres of grey mud, and protestors put a very big statue of the Indonesian director of Lapindo Brantas, Aburizal Bakrie, into the mud. Others people put up a gravestone to remember the villages that had been lost.

They have waited for seven years, but people like Marsudiyono and Yora still hope that they will win. If they don’t fight against these companies and their foreign investors, there will be more disasters like Sidoarjo.

Extracting fossil fuels (gas, coal and oil) is destroying the lives of millions across the world. They lose their homes and jobs because of the pollution and land grabs. As climate change increases, many more people will be affected more indirectly by the billions of tonnes of carbon produced from these projects.

Many of the firms extracting fossil fuels in Indonesia, for example BHP Billiton and Bumi plc, are listed in Britain and get a lot of financial investment from British banks and pension funds. And Indonesia is not alone – Britain’s finance sector supports fossil fuel projects across the world. To stop the destruction by these industries, we need to stop the money they receive.

The London Mining Network wrote a report last year saying we need more regulation of firms on the London Stock Exchange, to make sure that they follow social and environmental standards. Other groups, including the World Development Movement, have said that banks should be forced to state the carbon footprints of their investments in fossil fuel projects.

This and other campaigns such as, are a first step to stopping money for coal, oil and gas extraction in Indonesia and other countries. But we need more. And activists in Britain need to work together with others in the Global South to be able to win justice for the victims of fossil fuel. We need to stop the financial sector’s investment in carbon.

Alex Scrivener is a policy officer at the World Development Movement, and recently visited Sidoarjo, Indonesia.

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