Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Disregard for the environment damages the nation's economy

Jonathan Wootliff | Tue, 08/25/2009

Although Indonesia covers only 1.3 percent of the planet's land surface, this island nation is home to about 17 percent of Earth's plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world, according to The Nature Conservancy.

It's no wonder that most of world's leading conservation organizations have operations in a country that plays such an important role as part of the global ecosystem.

The Nature Conservancy, which is one of the largest environmental NGOs in the world, works alongside many famous international names in ecological protection in Indonesia, including Birdlife International, Conservation International, Greenpeace and Worldwide Fund for Nature. And there are hundreds of homegrown organizations dedicated to the nurturing of this nation's nature.

As the world's largest archipelago of 17,000 islands, Indonesia spans two bio-geographic regions, known as the Indomalayan and Australasian. Its rich array of biodiversity can be found across its breathtakingly varied landscape from pristine rainforests to rich coastal and marine areas.

The biological statistics are staggering.

More than 3,300 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles and nearly 30,000 types of vascular plants are endemic to the islands, estimated at 40 percent of all biodiversity found in the region.

There are 1,539 bird species and 50 percent of all the world's fish species can be found in its marine and freshwater systems. And with over 500 varieties, Indonesia has more species of mammal than any other nation

But as regularly reported in this column and elsewhere, Indonesia's stunning natural environment and rich resources are facing sustained challenges from both natural phenomena and human activity. It is located in the highly seismic Pacific Ring of Fire, which accounts for 90 percent of the world's earthquakes. It is also the site of significant human activity as massive development is unleashed.

The growing pressure of population demands together with inadequate environmental management is a challenge for Indonesia that hurts both the poor and the economy at large.

Economic losses attributable to limited access to safe water and sanitation are conservatively estimated at an annual 2 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The annual costs of air pollution to the Indonesian economy have been calculated at around Rp 4 trillion each year.

As is so often the case in the developing world, these costs are typically disproportionately borne by the poor because they are far more exposed to pollution and much less likely to be able to afford mitigation measures.

Indonesia has long been a land of paradoxes. While it is home to so much of the world's flora and fauna, it is also the place with the largest number of critically endangered species.

IUCN, the World Conservation Union, has listed 147 mammals as close to extinction together with 114 birds, 91 fishes and 26 invertebrates. The organization explains that major conservation efforts are vital if these species are not to become extinct in the near future.

Trade in wild animals is a serious threat to many species in Indonesia. More than 95 percent of animals sold in markets are taken directly from the wild and not from captive breeding stocks, with more than 20 percent dying in transportation. And yet many endangered and protected species are traded freely, with the rarest sickeningly commanding the highest prices.

A roll call of animals threatened with annihilation collated by the Indonesian animal protection charity, ProFauna, makes for depressing reading.

Some 115,000 parrots are trapped each year in the wild in Papua and Maluku, including the highly endangered palm cockatoo, black-headed lory and yellow-crested cockatoo.

More than 25,000 turtles are slaughtered each year in Bali for satay and their shells sold as cheap ornaments to tourists.

Each year, 1,000 Kalimantan orangutans are smuggled to Java and overseas. To capture the orangutan babies, hunters will kill the mothers, meaning at least one orangutan dies for each baby taken.

At least 2,500 Javanese ebony lutung are hunted each year for illegal trade and for meat.

In excess of 3,000 gibbons are annually culled for domestic wildlife trade or to be smuggled overseas.

Forty percent of trapped wild animals die as a result of cruelty and pain inflicted during their capture and transportation due to cramped cages and inadequate food and water. Sixty percent of animals illegally traded in the local wildlife markets are endangered, all of which are officially protected by law.

It is common in Indonesians to keep wild animals in cages, often without realizing that this can be cruel to the animal and damaging to the species. Singing bird competitions are commonplace in some regions of the country, particularly Java, stimulating hunting and trade in some of the country's most endangered creatures.

This column is relentlessly documenting the complexity and diversity of problems facing Indonesia's wildlife and the environment.

We must be thankful for the plethora of NGOs dedicated to the protection of Indonesia's biodiversity. The people of this country need to be made more aware of the value of nature, and the government must be constantly reminded of its duty to ensure that our unique environment is adequately protected.

Jonathan Wootliff is an independent sustainable development consultant specializing in the building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at jonathan@wootliff.com