Louise Williams was the foreign correspondent in Indonesia for The Sydney Morning Herald from 1996 – 1999.
“Indonesia is very beautiful country naturally but under a lot of pressure environmentally. From an aesthetic point of view you see a lot of design and architecture really reflects the great value people put on the natural environment. But the same token it’s being destroyed on a wholesale scale. Java, where Jakarta is located, is the most densely populated island on earth.”
The traditional art forms of Indonesia are informed by the natural environment, “All batik colours came from naturally derived dyes and the process is in sync with the natural environment.” However, these art forms are becoming less removed from the traditional process as the landscape of Indonesia changes. “Mass urbaisation [means] people have moved out of the rural areas. Huge areas of the country very badly damaged environmentally and even the areas that are ‘reserves’ you would find they are not kept in a way we would understand a national park in [Australia]. No one seeks to go out and say, ‘I’m going to go out and degrade my environment.’ But it comes out of really short sighted thinking. And it’s also driven by need. The corrupt power elite, who get a concession to sell timber, so they get the poor land owners to sell them their land for a lump sum and the forest is gone.”
“[There are ] a lot of problems associated with deforestation like erosion, all the top soil is removed and the little people end up worse off. Even though there have been a lot of programs with Western countries essentially paying Indonesia not to log their land, recognising that the driving force is need, those have all been corrupted so that the people who actually get the money are not the people on the ground who need it but the bigger companies. There are some national parks and eco tourism ventures, but its only tiny little pockets of change.”
There are some ways that positive change is occurring though, “One of the good things that CIFOR [Centre for International Forestry Research] does is provide information. One of the things that they do is work with the people at all levels to devise solutions, to preserve forests. Recognising the reality of how things are.”
And the international community is getting involved in logging for palm plantations, “Really big brands are promising not to use palm oil because of the huge consumer backlash all over the world because of the impact of palm oil.”
But making change remains difficult overall “because corruption is so entrenched. The instinct to survive [sits] over the instinct to allow other people to have a good life.
There is very much still a power struggle between the power elite and what they call the “orang kecil” the ‘little people’ who are really losing out in terms of the environment.
Williams, L. (2015) Interviewed by Elowyn Williams Roldan, 29 April 2015.
World Population Review 2014, Indonesia Population 2014 , viewed 29/04 2015, <http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/indonesia-population/>.