Borneo's rainforest contains precious natural resources and the extraction of these is often leading to rainforest destruction evicting local communities and endangered animals from their homes, and causing severe natural disasters, such as the pollution of air and waterways. As the rainforest of Borneo contain enormous amounts of coal, gold and other minerals, large mining companies continue to expand their operations, opening up new rainforest areas for mining operations regardless of their detrimental consequences for the environment.
The tropical rainforest on Borneo is not only home to many unique species of plants and animals, but also contains great amounts of natural resources such as gold. These resources have through time often attracted people who do not have concerns for the environment as their highest priority.
A growing industry
The island of Borneo is a targeted place for mining companies due to the great deposition of organic material (peat) over thousands of years. By 2012 Indonesia was producing 443 million tons of coal (increase of 450 % since 2000), with Borneo accounting for 70 % of the total production (Banktrack, 2014). The mining of minerals is not constrained to coal, and also includes the extraction of tin, gold, silver, diamonds, copper and different types of sand and stone. Where large-scale companies primarily are targeting Borneo´s coal reserves, small-scale miners are primarily searching for gold. However, small-scale miners are often working illegal, pushed into the industry by diminishing livelihood opportunities in a heavily reduced and polluted rainforest environment.
Pollution of the natural environmental
The mining process is highly damaging to the surrounding areas. As mining operations begin the aboveground vegetation is completely removed on-site, creating widespread deforestation and an increased risk of flooding. At coalmines the exposure of coal and water drainage create acid run-off and sedimentation, as particles of coal contain lead, arsenic and mercury and other heavy metals (all toxic to human health). At small-scale gold mines the excavated soil is typically directly washed in the nearby rivers, polluting the water downstream with mercury and cyanide used for isolating the gold. As a result, more than 45 % of freshwater fish have been reported containing dangerous levels of mercury, and since local people often live of what nature can provide, the pollution seriously threatens their health and livelihoods. When the mining operations have finally ceased the mines are most often just abandoned, leaving large scars in the landscape.
Local resistance to large-scale mining
Local people are increasingly fighting large-scale mining operating companies and their acquirement of ingenious territory. In the fall of 2015, local Dayak people from the Maruwai village (northern part of Central Kalimantan) raised a legal claim to 1000 ha of a newly claimed mining area. As the village is located close to two of the biggest coal mines in Central Kalimantan (within 15 km) they have already felt the environmental consequence of coalmines, which is reported to have polluted the river, increased flooding, reduced their access to land and hunting grounds, and increased dependency on the company (e.g. one third of men in the working age have employment in the mines). Community development initiatives provided by the mining company are installed to compensate for the environmental damages imposed by mining activities, and includes a recently installed water purification system (McCauley, 2015).
Save the Orangutan is supporting local communities in claiming their rightful rights to the nature they have lived of for centuries. Read more here >>
Alternative sources of income
Save the Orangutan aims to minimise illegal mining. For instance, with the help of the Danish association CISU, we support villagers in creating alternative, sustainable sources of income in the villages. Read more >>