Forget Kendeng Not


Indonesia’s diversity is a blessing and a curse. While foreign investors, particularly cement and mining companies, have brought in significant investment to the country, it has often come at the expense of the environment. Since 1998, Pati Regency in Central Java has been experiencing flooding, which has caused damages to properties, and livelihood. However, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, the region opened up to cement mining, thereby, increasing the threats of disasters. The Kendeng Mountains Concerned Community Network (JM-PPK) has urged President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) to take firm action against the limestone mining in the region. They urged the President to Forget Kendeng Not!

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JM-PPK Members, the local community that is affected with the expansion of cement industry in Pati Regency, Central Java, Indonesia.

Jaringan Masyarakat Peduli Pegunungan Kendeng / Community Network Concerned for the Kendeng Mountains (JM-PPK) complained about flooding in Pati Regency, Central Java, Indonesia. The disaster lasted for almost three months, from November 2022 until January 2023. JM-PPK representative Gunretno suspected that the cause of the flooding in Pati was due to deforestation and massive mining in the since 1998 "The problem is that flooding like this occurs every year and it is clear why the root of the problem has not been resolved. The problem with deforestation since 1998 should have been resolved with better green solution," said Gunarti, a woman leader of Kartini Kendeng.

 "Obviously this forest is being cleared, mined, compounding the disaster. There is also a cement factory," she added. According to Gunarti, these environmental problems must be addressed together. This is because so far severe flooding in Pati has been repeated every year.

Although, Gunarti emphasized the government's efforts allegedly addressing the flooding in the area. She said that the officials merely visiting the area could not stop the floods instead there must be real sustainable actions that could better impact the community.

Gunarti of the Samin Community in Sukolilo, Pati.

The widespread flooding was also exacerbated by the collapse of the embankment. Until February 2023, the floods in the area had not completely receded. A number of Kendeng residents who are also members of the JM-PPK wrote to President Joko Widodo regarding the prolonged flooding in the areas around the Kendeng Mountains, namely Pati, Kudus, and Grobogan, in Central Java. They reminded the President of his meeting with Kendeng farmers on 2 August 2016. "This disaster is not the will of God, it’s not a destiny." according to a letter sent to the President by the JMPPK Coordinator on 16 January 2023.

JM-PPK said there are dozens of mining companies operating just upstream of Kendeng Mountain, which sits at the mouth of the many little water springs. Their activities have turned the once-forested landscape of the upstream area into a barren wasteland dotted with abandoned mining hills. As a result, the upstream area can no longer absorb large volumes of rainfall.

JM-PPK members spreading awareness about the flood through campaigns.

“Lowland of Kendeng is an area that receives rainwater runoff from other high Kendeng areas. The mining companies have been getting away with razing the forests for years because the local government turned a blind eye to their activities,” JM-PPK said. “It’s an old song that keeps repeating. “Flooding is an old problem and the cause has been mentioned, but there’s no effort to improve [the situation] by the Pati Regency government,” JM-PPK added in a statement.

Floods have previously occurred in Pati and its surroundings since the end of 2022. The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) noted that as of 17 January 2023, there were 5,645 families or 22,580 people affected. It caused property damages including a total of 6,301 housing units. Other affected assets were a village hall, five prayer houses (mosques), seven educational facilities, and a number of local access roads. In the Kendeng Mountains, Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment / Kajian Lingkungan Hidup Strategis (KLHS) document, residents, stated that the environmental damage had occurred. If not immediately addressed, it will inevitably lead a major ecological disaster.

JM-PPK Request Mining Activities to Stop

At that time, President Jokowi had the opportunity meet Kendeng farmers and JM-PPK at the State Palace in Central Jakarta.  He eventually acknowledged the Kendeng farmers who were demonstrating and who had set up the Kendeng Mountain Farmers Struggle Tents to oppose the construction of a cement factory and limestone mining in their area. During the meeting, President Jokowi emphasized the need to immediately carry out an analysis of the carrying capacity of the Kendeng Mountains through the KLHS. The implementation of the KLHS would also be coordinated by the Presidential Staff Office. "Because this problem is cross-ministry and cross-regional, namely five regencies and one province," Gunretno explained. But on the ground, residents protested and asked President Jokowi to consistently implement the recommendations. In a JM-PPK letter, residents again asked the President to carry out the results of the KLHS that had been completed by academics across universities. According to residents, the results of the KLHS Report I and KLHS Report II have fulfilled all aspects of the environmental assessment, including the directives regarding land use based on its carrying capacity.

Protest in front of the German Embassy in Jakarta.

Turning forested land into fields or mining it for cement removes the vegetation that holds the soil together. Then, when it rains, the soil is easily carried down into small springs, rivers, and community agriculture Kendeng’s low ground, reducing its capacity to hold water. The Kendeng forest  system should has been designated as a conservation zone, with forests judged to be at "super-critical" risk of being cut down. Despite this, JMPPK claimed that , mining and land conversion that flouted regulations have continued. "Where there should have been forest, we see mining," JMPPK said, describing days during the disaster.

Indonesia is said to be both blessed and cursed because of its rich minerals including gold, nickel, copper, and the rock and sand required for cement.  It has brought huge foreign investment to Kendeng. But Kendeng exploitation has often badly impacted its surrounding communities.

"We the people consider that implementing the results in KLHS I and KLHS II is the best solution to prevent disaster around the Sukolilo Karst community (in the North Kendeng Mountains) It will have a worse impact in the future," reads the first point of JM-PPK's demands. Second, Kendeng residents urged President Jokowi to take decisive action to put an end to any  forms of destructive activities especially limestone mines in Sukolilo Karst area which is prone to environmental damage.

Third, President Jokowi was asked to support the community in its activities to reforest limestone hills in the Sukolilo Karst Area. The aim is to restore the function of the area according to its carrying capacity. Fourth, residents demand that Jokowi seriously fight for the ratification of the Draft Government Regulation or RPP for the Protection and Management of Karst Ecosystems which has been drawn up by the Ministry of Forestry and Environment in 2012. Currently, there is  Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Regulation No. 17 of 2012 concerning Determination of Natural Landscape Areas. "But it is not sufficient enough to protect the karst ecosystem," the JM-PPK wrote, “Forget Kendeng Not!”

Cemented Feet Protest
"Forget Kendeng Not"

Dewi Candraningrum is activist, lecturer, painter and founder and coordinator of Jejer Wadon, Boyolali, Central Java, Indonesia.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.