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Vulnerable Labuangkalo

Patrya Pratama 30 November 2010
The glimps of Labuangkalo seem to be ok. Everyhouse has a tv. Food are applenty. Cellphones are everywhere. The only shortage is sustainable water, but is being tackled although it is not yet functioning. But if we look at the long term prospect of this smallvillage, especially when we scrutinize the detail of every aspect of this village, the long-term existance of this village is under threat. First, the economy of the village is run with a full ignorance of the environment. More and more people rely on tambak, a special ponds made to breed certain kinds of fish, shrimps, crab, or anything. You can reap the result in around 3-5 months which means the investment they put would gain profit fast. The amounts of money reaped and the relatively fast investment return make tambak as the more prefered than going for normal fishing. There are hundreds of acres of tambaks at the inland part of the village. Everyman who owns a tambak at least controls over minimum of 5 acres (think of 5 football fields). The tambak has only been widespread in the last 5-6 years. This tambak practice is very unsustainable in the long term although the short term benefit seems to be obvious. First, the trees which covered most part of Labunagkalo’s inland part (as well as the whole kecamatan/ resident’s part) now are almost practically gone. The sea water does not fit well with the inland’s trees which eventually kills all the trees. If the water does not “clean” the trees fast enough, the tambak owner would burn the trees. This practice clearly harms the whole ecosystems, including the people of Labuangkalo themselves. For example, birds whose home is the trees vanished now have nowhere to live at. Furthermore, the most dangerous impact for the Labuangkalos is the rise of the sea level. When the sea tide is high, the water can no more be absorped by the inland’s soil and water because tambak blocks the water absorption. It is already felt by the people that the sea level is getting higher and higher as time goes by. The consequence is that Labuangkalo village has the possibility of flooded or drowned in the near future. This tambak practice is coupled with the growing of palm oil plantations in villages around Labuangkalo, such as the Prapat village, Sungai Liran village, etc. Not only the palm oil plantations cut off the treeas just the tambak does, the waste of the industry (run by large companies such as Astra, Kodeco, etc) often goes straight to the water used by local villagers for daily lif, creating direct health concern. The more and more vanished trees is also giving headache for the Labuangkalos (as well as other similar villages around) as woods are the main materials for houses. The less the trees are, the more expensive woods for houses are. They are more and more dependent to woods seller whereas in the past, they just had to cut the trees applenty in the inland part of the town. The politics of the district is not helping at all to tackle this long term threat. Pork and barrel politics remains in practice. Instead of putting the tambak practice into halt and start looking for possible economic opportunities, local politics instead put their attention more towards infrastructure. In the same vein, business sector is not helping either. Some villagers have told me that some corporations (palm oil corporations) have been bribing the people by giving them plasma tv for their silence regarding their environmental practice. Lastly, I believe that it is only the Labuangkalos that can change this situation, not some scholars from outside the village, not some NGO’s, nor politicians from the district’s capital. If we look at the prospect now, every educated  and well-off Labuangkalos choose to flee the village and try their fortunes elsewhere. None of them returns to Labuangkalo to build the village. Whereas those who remains in the village are far too concern about short term benefit from fishing or cultivating tambak. Dropping of schools is not a big of a problem as their knowledge gained at school does not seem to correlate with their economic fortunes. Schooling seems to be trivialized as when the tambak reaping comes, it is ok for the kids to leave schools. Knowledge economy which is to add the values of Labuangkalo’s natural resource is not yet to be developed. They can start doing it by putting their children into schools.

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