Statement in Response to Tragic Mudslide in Batang Toru, Indonesia

Responding to the tragic news that at least 13 people have been killed or are missing in a mudslide on the site of the controversial Batang Toru hydroelectric dam project in Indonesia, Mighty Earth Campaign Director Amanda Hurowitz issued the following statement:

“Our hearts go out to the families of the people who have been killed or injured in this tragic disaster – both local community members and the Chinese workers at the site, far from home. We urge PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE) and government authorities at all levels to provide immediate assistance and relief to those impacted and take action to prevent further damage and harm.

“Sadly, this disaster was likely an avoidable one. Scientists, environmental advocates and even reports received by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry have all warned that the terrain surrounding the proposed site for the Batang Toru dam was at medium to high risk of landslides because of high rainfall, hilly terrain and poor drainage. The project also sits near a fault line in an area prone to earthquakes and is being built, seemingly, without an adequate plan in place to mitigate the effects of development in this sensitive area. In fact, just five months ago, another landslide killed a Chinese dam worker, foreshadowing today’s tragedy.

“Our allies, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) have filed a lawsuit against the project in Indonesian court, claiming NSHE’s environmental impact assessment failed to consider endangered species, communities downstream, and the potential for ecological disasters. Additionally, WALHI has called for development to stop in this ecologically important, high risk area.”

Roy Lumban Gaol, Deputy for Advocacy and Campaigns with WALHI North Sumatera, added:

“This incident is just another example of why this destructive project needs to be halted once and for all. There should be a moratorium on further development of the site. The Indonesian government should suspend the AMDAL for the project and conduct an urgent review of the project’s viability in terms of risk to worker safety, structural integrity linked to flooding and earthquake risk and the existential threat the dam construction poses to biodiversity, including the world’s most endangered great ape: the Tapanuli orangutan.”

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Background

  1. This ill-conceived Chinese backed Indonesian dam project came to worldwide attention in 2017 when scientists made the stunning announcement that they had identified a new species of great ape living in the forests of Batang Toru. The Tapanuli Orangutan, numbering only 800, is the most endangered species of ape in the world. The dam and associated infrastructure by bisecting their habitat threatens their very existence.[i]
  2. Analysis of predicted electricity demand in the region has shown that the electricity that would be produced by the dam may not even be needed.[ii]
  3. This project has become a risky bet for major financiers. Multilateral development banks such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have also pulled out of the project[iii], as have private investment banks like Goldman Sachs.[iv] The Asian Infrastructure Development Bank has reportedly declined to finance the project. And, the Bank of China appears to have suspended its involvement pending a ‘review’.[v]
  4. The Tapanuli orangutan faces other threats associated with habitat loss, including land clearing associated with the Martabe gold mine, owned and operated by companies linked with to Astra Agro Lestari and British conglomerate Jardines Matheson.[vi]

  1. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/what-does-it-take-to-discover-a-new-great-ape-species/; https://www.mightyearth.org/2019/03/07/batang-toru/
  2. Dam that threatens orangutan habitat is ‘wholly unnecessary’: Report (mongabay.com)
  3. Bank of China’s Notes on the Hydroelectric Dam Project in Batang Toru of Indonesia (boc.cn)
  4. Dam that threatens orangutan habitat faces three-year delay (mongabay.com)
  5. Dam threatening world’s rarest great ape faces delays | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)
  6. https://www.independent.ie/world-news/asia-pacific/fears-rare-orangutan-being-driven-to-extinction-by-gold-mine-39508396.html