Thursday, November 20, 2008

E. Kalimantan rich in resources, but poor in infrastructure

May 30, 2008
E. Kalimantan rich in resources, but poor in infrastructure
By Nurni Sulaiman and Hyginus Hardoyo

The new governor of natural resources-rich East Kalimantan will step into office to face challenges ranging from the acute shortage of electricity and clean water to the poor state of road networks.

Following Monday's first direct election for governor, locals expect to know on June 10 which of the candidates will be entrusted with the top job of improving their lives.

Election campaigns were full of pledges to reduce poverty and unemployment. The new governor of the province's 14 regencies is expected to seek foreign investment to develop the region's poor infrastructure.

Many domestic and foreign investment companies have operated in the province for years to tap oil, gold and coal reserves.

The operations of foreign oil companies like Chevron and Total Indonesia and also state-run oil and gas company Pertamina have made East Kalimantan among the country's biggest oil suppliers.

Gold reserves in East Kutai regency used to be mined by PT Kelian Equatorial Mining, while coal reserves are now tapped by, among others, large-scale coal mining company Kaltim Prima Coal in Paser, Kutai Kartanegara and North Penajam Paser regencies.

The province is also rich in fisheries, plantations, tropical forests, which have been excessively exploited.

Yet across this province power blackouts are routine.

City residents also suffer from clean water shortages, and are subject to rationing by the local water company.

Things are naturally worse off in the remote areas and the northern regions along the border with Malaysia. There dozens or even hundreds of villages rely solely on rivers for their water for bathing and everything else.

Roads are ruined along the trans-Kalimantan highways, especially the one linking the provincial capital of Samarinda and Bontang and Sengata in the south, and Berau and other areas in the north.

When completed next year, the trans-Kalimantan highway of almost 6,000 kilometers will cover East, South, Central and West Kalimantan.

Nowadays, on the route linking Berau, Bulungan and Malinau, motorists of even four-wheel-drive cars frequently stay overnight when trapped in the mud when it rains. There is no other solution except to wait for the mud to dry.

One gubernatorial candidate joked about the notorious 60-km southern section linking Bontang and Sengata.

"People usually eat rice and fish, but if they pass by this road, they can change their menu to asphalt and rocks," Jusuf Serang Kasim said.

Poverty has been on the rise every year despite official claims that it is declining. Statistics show the poor reached 324,000 last year, increasing from 318,000 in 2004, out of a provincial population of 3.21 million.

Of the poor, almost 60 percent live in rural areas with few education and health services.

Teachers in border areas with Malaysia like Nunukan, Malinau and Bulungan have had to teach all classes from the first to sixth grade.

Some teachers in Nunukan in the northernmost reaches of the province have even frequently been ordered to help teach in nearby Krayan — when flights are available.

"The only plane serving the route to Krayan has been fully booked until December 2008," said Syaharuddin, a teacher.

"Even if there is a plane, we have no money to charter it because it costs Rp 5.5 million (US$610) one-way," he said during a meeting with candidate Awang Faroek Ishak in Balikpapan.

He said a teacher's salary is an average of Rp 600,000 per month. "So please pay attention to the welfare of teachers in border areas," he said.

Health services are limited to one community health center with a single health attendant in one village in the border areas. The centers are closed when the attendant is on duty in a neighboring village.

All this has been the reality for dozens of years, and people seem immune to pledges. "We demand results, not just promises," said Pangeran Sekampung, a noted figure of the Dayak tribe in the Limbas district of Nunukan.

While poverty figures seem small it is the disparity which is striking.

The southern and northern parts of the province are starkly different. The south, including Balikpapan, Samarinda, Tenggarong and Bontang, is booming with projects.

Across Malaysia, in contrast, Indonesia's areas of Tarakan, Nunukan, Tana Tidung and Bulungan are synonymous with poverty and backwardness.

East Kalimantan did not see the communal bloodshed of West Kalimantan which shocked the country. Like conflicts elsewhere in the country, there was fertile ground to spread rumors and violence between different ethnic groups in West Kalimantan — mainly natives who felt migrants were taking their jobs. (The Jakarta Post)

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