Drought adds to Afghanistan woes

Afghan children fill canisters with water from a water pump outside their temporary homes on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Files/AFP
Updated 27 May 2018

Drought adds to Afghanistan woes

  • Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought
  • More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces

KABUL: Rain and snow are as important as peace for Afghanistan. But the landlocked and mountainous country this year had its lowest rainfall for years, causing widespread drought and leaving 2 million people facing food shortages.
Livestock in many areas have died, and some farmers have been forced to send their herds for pasture to neighboring Turkmenistan.
Thousands of people have left their homes already due to water shortages, with fears that the situation will worsen in autumn, Afghan and UN officials say.
Twenty of the country’s 34 provinces, including the northern region — Afghanistan’s food basket — have been badly affected, they said.
The aid-reliant Afghan government has begun delivering aid to affected areas. But assistance will be needed for months to come. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said rapid action was needed to enable delivery of food and water. More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces, it said.
“Drought is gripping large parts of Afghanistan, with more than 2 million people expected to become severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance for survival,” OCHA said.
“A quick, comprehensive response will enable the delivery of food and water to the rural villages and help to avoid the migration of families to cities where they risk losing all of their few possessions, and where they lack shelter and access to health facilities and schools for their children,” it said.
Water points and fountains across the country have dried up, and the lack of rain and snow melt has made rivers run low or dry up, the organization said.
About 1.5 million goats and sheep in northeast regions are struggling to find food and more than half of the 1,000 villages in the province are suffering from lack of water.
Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought, limiting communities’ access to markets.
In Helmand, village elders reportedly need to obtain special approval from the armed groups to access markets in areas under government control.
In Uruzgan province, people often cannot access the main market in Tirinkot due to fighting and insecurity on the roads to the provincial capital. Following a temporary closure of the road to neighboring Kandahar province in April due to fighting, wheat prices went up by 50 percent in the city, and the price for fresh produce quadrupled within days.
Engineer Mohammed Sediq Hassani, chief of planning in the government’s Disaster Management Department, said the drought has directly and indirectly taken the lives of dozens of people.

“The impact of drought in terms of taking lives is intangible and slow. An indirect impact can be the recent floods, which claimed the lives of 73 people. Floods happen when there is a drought because of the change of the climate,” he told Arab News.


Indonesians divided over plan to move capital from Jakarta

Updated 47 min 1 sec ago

Indonesians divided over plan to move capital from Jakarta

  • President Jokowi has said government will cover 19% of the $33 billion relocation cost
  • Government has allocated 180,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan for new capital

JAKARTA: Having heard for months from the media about government plans to move the administrative capital from Jakarta, Indonesians got a clearer picture when President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo formally placed the idea before the country’s parliament in August. 

So far, the government has completed part of the spadework in preparation for the transfer: Conducting a three-year study and requesting parliament’s consent for the plan to move the capital to a location in East Kalimantan province, on Borneo, an island Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei.

Jokowi, who began his second and final term on Oct. 20, had formally asked the public to sign off on the plan during his annual state of the nation address in Aug. Ten days later he announced that the government had earmarked 180,000 hectares of land straddling the districts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan province for the new capital.

Jokowi has pegged the cost of the relocation of the capital from Jakarta at $33 billion. He claims the government will need to carry only 19 percent of the cost, while the remainder will be taken care of by private investments and public-private partnership schemes.

The National Development Planning Agency, or Bappenas, has fixed 2021 as the year for the groundbreaking of the project. It will launch the transfer process by the end of 2024, the year Joko’s presidential term ends.

Defending the decision to select a site in remote East Kalimantan to be the as-yet-unnamed new capital, Jokowi has said that it will spur regional development and reduce economic disparity between Java and other parts of Indonesia.

Coastal village in East Kalimantan, where the new Indonesian capital is proposed to be relocated. (Shutterstock)

Jokowi, whose re-election was partly propeled by a vigorous infrastructure drive, has also said the new capital’s location will be strategic: in the country’s middle in addition to being close to two developing cities — Samarinda and Balikpapan — which have the advantages of a major seaport and international airports.

The government also said that East Kalimantan is less prone to natural disasters because the island is not part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. By contrast, Sumatra, Java and other islands on the southern side of the archipelago are dotted with active volcanoes and prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.

The downside, however, is that East Kalimantan and its neighboring provinces are prone to man-made disasters. The annual forest fires caused by slash-and-burn land-clearing methods — mainly for palm oil plantations — produce thick smog, which creates a toxic haze in places as far away as Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia’s part of Borneo.

The problem is compounded by a combination of easily burned peat lands and a long-drawn-out dry season. Satellite images show that East Kalimantan is one of the provinces with the highest number of hotspots, or areas where fires are detected.

Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, has pointed out that during the 2015 forest fires, 3,487 hotspots were found in the Kutai Kartanegara district alone.

Leonard Simanjuntak, Greenpeace Indonesia’s country director, said that environmental concerns should be taken into consideration before the capital is relocated from Jakarta.

INNUMBERS

$40.1 BILLION - Budget allocation for Jakarta’s urban revamping.

$33 BILLION - Cost of building the new capital.

1.5 MILLION - Expected population of new capital.

1,300 KILOMETERS - Distance from Jakarta to site of new capital. 1-15cm Annual rate of Jakarta’s surface subsidence.

1957 - Year first President Sukarno floated the idea of moving the capital to Kalimantan.

“The threat posed by the global climate crisis or the environmental mismanagement of Jakarta should not be a reason to cut and run by moving the capital,” he told Arab News.

“However, it must provide a wake-up call and become a major consideration in Indonesia’s development strategy going forward. The relocation of our capital will only shift environmental problems or create new ones,” Leonard told Arab News.

The government, though, envisions the new capital as a city built from scratch, with at least 50 percent green spaces; less dependence on private vehicles thanks to an integrated public-transport network, bicycle lanes and wide pedestrian paths; buildings with green designs; renewables meeting part of the energy requirements; and “smart” water and waste management systems.

Despite its determination to go ahead with the capital transfer, the government has yet to rally public opinion behind the idea.

A survey conducted by Kedai Kopi, a political pollster, in August showed that 95.7 percent of respondents who were from Jakarta disagreed with the idea of transferring the capital.

Across the country, the percentage of respondents who did not support the idea was 39.8 percent. This was higher than the number of respondents who agreed with the plan (35.6 percent) and who had no opinion on the issue (24.6 percent).

“It is no wonder that most respondents from Jakarta disagreed with the plan since they would be the most impacted by the move,” Kunto Wibowo, the executive director of pollster Kedai Kopi, told Arab News.

The concerns are well founded. Jakarta is notorious for its traffic congestion and worsening air quality in addition to being a sinking city due to land subsidence (at a rate from 1cm to 15cm annually).

In another national survey, conducted by pollster Median, 45.3 percent of 1,000 respondents did not agree with the capital-transfer idea compared to the 40.7 percent who agreed.

Rico Marbun, executive director of Median, said in a statement that 58.6 percent of respondents felt the government ought to tackle more pressing issues, notably a stagnant economy, poverty and public welfare, unemployment and lack of opportunities; social unrest in Papua and West Papua provinces, and infrastructure. 

A view of a heavily mined and logged forestland in East Kalimantan, where the proposed new capital of Indonesia is to be located. (Shutterstock)

Speaking to Arab News, Nirwono Joga, an urban planning expert at Jakarta’s Trisakti University, said: “If there were funds available to develop a new capital, it would be wiser to divert it to accelerate urban development in other cities.

“We can’t stop people from moving to Jakarta but we can avert it by developing new economic zones outside the greater Jakarta area and outside Java.”

For his part, Jokowi has been assuring Indonesians that Jakarta will not cease to be a government priority.

“Jakarta will continue to be developed as an international and regional business, finance, trade and service hub,” he said.

“The city administration has allocated 571 trillion rupiahs ($40.1 billion) for urban regeneration in the city. The plan is ready for execution.”

An estimated 10 million Indonesians live in Jakarta proper. If the population of the satellite cities is included, many of whom commute into the capital every day, the total figure is 30 million.

The principal city of Java, Indonesia’s most populated island, Jakarta is home to about 149 million people — or more than half of the country’s total population.

As such, Jakarta’s status as Indonesia’s business and finance capital is not under any immediate threat.

It will also continue to be the diplomatic capital of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A new secretariat building of ASEAN’s headquarters in Jakarta was inaugurated on Aug. 8, ASEAN Day, to mark the bloc’s formation in 1967. Of the 93 ambassadors accredited to ASEAN, 74 are currently based in Jakarta.

“The secretariat will not be moving to Kalimantan because we just got a new building,” Lim Jock Hoi, ASEAN’s secretary-general, said at the ASEAN editors’ roundtable of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 6.

“We will strengthen our presence in Jakarta and there’s no way that we can move to Kalimantan if the capital is there.”

Beyond the diplomatic, economic and strategic arguments, Jakarta has a certain intangible edge over other Indonesian cities. As Fadli Zon, a former deputy House Speaker, pointed out recently, it is the city where the country’s independence was declared and the state ideology Pancasila developed, as well as where the constitution was formulated and drafted.

“This collective memory is what unites us as a nation,” he said.