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Indonesia’s Aceh extends moratorium on new mining sites

Activists in Aceh demanded the provincial government to extend the moratorium on new mining permits. Photo by Junaidi Hanafiah/Mongabay-Indonesia.

  • The governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province has extended for another six months a moratorium on issuing new mining permits.
  • The government says it will use the extended moratorium period to review and improve the management of the province’s mining sector.
  • The freeze has been in place since 2014, and has been credited by activists with saving hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest in Aceh — home to critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants — from being cleared.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — The government of Indonesia’s Aceh province will reject applications for new mineral and coal-mining projects in the region for another half year, in a bid to protect some of Sumatra’s rich rainforests and natural resources.

Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf last month signed off the freeze on new mining deals until June this year, after the previous moratorium ended last October. The province has maintained a series bans on such permits since 2014.

The administration said it would continue to review and improve the management of the mining sector in Aceh during the ban.

“This is also to keep protecting our environment as a source of life for our people, and to prevent any disasters from happening,” said provincial administration spokesman Edrian, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name. “We hope everyone will support the governor’s policy.”

New applications for mineral and coal exploration activities will also be denied by the administration; however, it will process and evaluate requests for extensions up to three months before an existing exploration permit ends.

Rainforests in the Mount Leuser ecosystem, which straddles the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Askhalani, an activist with the anti-corruption NGO GeRAK, welcomed the renewal of the moratorium, saying it had saved hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests in Aceh, home to some of Indonesia’s last biodiversity and natural resources hotspots.

“The government of Aceh must keep evaluating all permits and check in person what’s happening on the ground,” Askhalani said.

The province has revoked 101 mining permits out of 138 that account for some 8,410 square kilometers (3,250 square miles) of land, including protected areas and conservation zones, since the ban was first imposed by then-governor Zaini Abdullah.

That move was itself spurred by a decision by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to establish a nationwide moratorium on palm oil and mining concessions in forest areas. It marked a significant step for provincial governments, which have tended not to toe the national government’s line on such issues. Indonesia’s decentralized system of governance means local officials — and not those in Jakarta, as was the case previously — are primarily responsible for managing the land in their jurisdictions.

Much of Sumatra’s rainforests — home to critically endangered Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii), tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica), rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) — have been razed to make way for plantations and mines.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published here on our Indonesian site on Jan. 8, 2018.

Banner image: Activists in Aceh demanded the provincial government extend a moratorium on issuing new mining permits. Photo by Junaidi Hanafiah/Mongabay-Indonesia.

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