Sun, Dec 08, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Coal rush ravages
Indonesian Borneo

Samarinda residents say officials dubbed the ‘mining mafia’ sell extraction permits, resulting in more than half the city being covered with mines that have polluted the water supply and denuded the forest

By Angela Dewan  /  AFP, SAMARINDA, Indonesia

Campaigners say that companies have ignored their legal obligation to fill abandoned deep pits once their activities are complete. More than 10 people, including seven children, died between 2011 and last year from falling into these holes, according to local media reports.

This grim picture of Samarinda is a far cry from what it once was: a lush jungle with orangutans and exotic birds, many native to Borneo.

It is a common story across the world’s third-largest island, which was once almost entirely covered in trees, but has now lost about half of its forest, the WWF says.

Like in the Amazon, the rainforest on Borneo acts like a sponge, soaking up climate change-inducing carbon from the atmosphere.

A recent report from the World Development Movement warned that the coal rush is spreading to better conserved parts of Borneo, such as Central Kalimantan Province. The forest in this province is almost untouched, but companies such as Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton have plans to begin mining for coal there.

BHP said any development it undertakes in Kalimantan “will be subject to detailed environmental and social impact assessments.”

Despite the destruction, Borneo still attracts nature lovers from around the world to see the oldest known rainforests on the planet and its more than 1,400 animal species and 15,000 types of plants, but environmentalists warn there might not be much left to see if the environmental devastation continues at the current pace.

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