Indonesia to host Pakistani, Afghan scholars for peace conference

Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia on Thursday in an effort to support the Afghan peace process, the country’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla announced last week.

In a concluding speech at a three-day gathering of international Muslim scholars, Kalla said Indonesia could play a role in building peace in Afghanistan by hosting the meeting on May 11. It was scheduled to be held in March in Jakarta but was delayed after a call from the Taliban to boycott it.

“We hope to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, we still have a problem there,” Kalla said at the vice presidential palace on May 3.

The plan to hold the meetings of the ulema from Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan arose after a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council led by its chairman Karim Khalili visited Indonesia in November. The council had asked Indonesia to support the peace process in Afghanistan through the ulema’s role.

The plan was further discussed when Kalla visited Kabul in late February to attend the Kabul Process conference, where he was the guest of honor.

“The people will listen to the ulema and they have trust in fatwas that the ulema issued,” Kalla said.

Afghan cleric Fazal Ghani Kakar, who was one of the participants in the conference, confirmed that the meeting will take place and that he has been invited to attend.

Kakar, who is the former chairman of Afghanistan’s Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the meeting would be timely because there was an urgent need to find resolution to the problem in Afghanistan, which he said was suffering from radicalism and extreme interpretation of Islam.

“The core issue will be how to build trust between the Afghan and Pakistan ulema because both sides have their own influence on the warring factions in Afghanistan,” Kakar told journalists at the palace.

“This will be the first round and we hope this will open the gate for further discussion,” Kakar said.

He said that he had high hopes for the meeting because “most of the extreme ideas are coming from the Pakistani side, so sitting with the Pakistani ulema is the first step together to reach a better solution.”

He also said there would be at least five ulema from Afghanistan attending, and ulema from the Taliban were expected to come because the political faction of the Taliban has expressed interest in joining the meeting.

“We are very thankful for Indonesia; it has always played its role in brokering peace within the country, and in neighboring countries. We are looking forward to this being a good step for Afghanistan,” Kakar said.

Riefqi Muna, a foreign policy researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said  there was a lot that Indonesia could share from its experience as a Muslim-majority country with a stable democracy that has had its own share of secessionist and communal conflicts.

“We are not going to lecture them, but there are best practices experiences that we can share, so it is necessary for Indonesia to take part in pushing for peace process in conflict-torn countries,” Muna said.

“Facilitating a place for conflicting parties to meet is a step to build peace and for conflict resolution,” he said.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

Indonesian president urged to ban child marriage

Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.

They submitted on Apr. 20 their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage. Presidential spokesman Johan Budi, confirmed that the meeting took place in Bogor Palace.

Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a public attorney from Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat) and one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.

“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah said.

“We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”

She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.

“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.

The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.

The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.

Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.

Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.

“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” said Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission.

“We appreciate the president’s response. We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added.

“I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”

The Constitutional Court in June 2015 rejected a request to review the marriage law and raise the legal age for girls to marry from 16 to 18.

According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.

Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.

The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.

The story was first published in Arab News

Indonesian LGBT community wins respite from criminalization

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia can breathe a sigh of relief, at least temporarily, as the House of Representatives has put on hold for the next few months the passage of revisions to the Criminal Code which include articles that would criminalize gay sex and extramarital sex.

Teuku Taufiqulhadi, a member of the House of Representatives’ working committee deliberating the bill, said the revisions were almost final but some articles required approval from different factions in Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, justice, human rights and security.

The bill was previously scheduled to be passed into law through the House’s plenary session in February but was sidelined after a public outcry over several controversial articles, as lawmakers and government were finalizing the 12-year deliberation to amend the penal code originally written by the Dutch during the colonial era.

“We are giving more time in the next two or three months for the public to provide feedback on the bill to us,” said Taufiqulhadi, a legislator from the National Democratic Party.

The most recent feedback came from the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI). They met lawmakers earlier this month to convey their recommendations and urged the parliament and President Joko Widodo to soon enact regulations that could criminalize and contain deterrents to LGBT activities. They also recommended that homosexuality should be categorized as a mental illness.

“Adulterers, lesbians, gay men and other deviant sexual activities should be severely punished, as well as those who advocate, facilitate, provide funding or groups that take economic and political advantage from the deviant sexual behavior,” Sri Astuti Buchari, a deputy chairwoman at ICMI said during a discussion on Apr. 6.

She also called for greater cooperation to block pornography and LGBT channels on social media platforms and the internet.

Some of the most controversial articles in the bill, known by its acronym KUHP, are those regulating general morality. The articles included an expanded definition of adultery and gay sex between consenting adults, with heavier sentences for violations. The revisions, which will seek a five-year prison term for adultery and one year for couples accused of cohabitation, were made following request from the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a mounting push from religious conservative groups.

Under the current Criminal Code, consensual same-sex relations are not treated as crimes, except in Aceh where the province has a special autonomy to impose shariah law.

An article that previously only criminalized only paedophiles has been expanded to also criminalize all gay sex between consenting adults.

“We continue to push for the removal of the specific mention of sexual orientation in the proposed article. As long as the sex is non-consentual or with a minor, it should be enough to constitute a crime,” said Anggara, the executive director of Jakarta-based rights advocacy group Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR).

The morality articles have been criticized for meddling too much in citizens’ private lives and creating potential of new crimes at a time when law enforcement agencies are already overwhelmed and understaffed in the face of more pressing offenses such as drugs, human trafficking or terrorism. Correctional facilities are also bursting at the seams with overpopulation.

Arsul Sani, a legislator from the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) and member of the working committee vetting the bill, defended the expanded definition of adultery to include gay sex and extramarital sex, saying it reflected the people’s philosophical, social and cultural values.

Sani said in February after the House plenary session that the proposed morality article would prevent ‘street justice’ or people taking matters into their own hands to harass those engaged in sexual activity they disapproved of, even if it is between consenting adults.

“It is necessary to expand the fornication article to not just criminalize adultery between members of the opposite sex but also between those of the same-sex,” he said.

“It was first proposed three years ago. Why make a fuss about it now when the bill is about to be passed into law?” he added.

Dede Oetomo, a Surabaya-based gay rights activist, acknowledged growing anxiety in the community over the rising hostility encountered in recent years, in contrast to the tolerance seen in the past.

Oetomo, an adviser to gay rights advocacy group GaYa Nusantara, said that the community had been optimistic that tolerance towards them would prevail, especially after President Joko Widodo was elected in 2014, as they believed he would push for greater democratization.

“We had big expectations because he is not from the old regime or a former military man but apparently we were wrong,” Oetomo said.

“Even before this talk about the proposed LGBT clause in the revised draft of the penal code, we have continued to encounter growing verbal and physical hostility since mid 2015,” he said, noting that the worrying trend coincided with the growing clout of religious conservatives in Indonesia.

Despite the unfavorable outlook, Oetomo said LGBT people continued about their regular daily lives and to hope they would not encounter harassment by police or intolerant groups.

In October, police officers raided a gay sauna in Central Jakarta and apprehended 51 men including seven foreigners, only to release most of them on the following day, while five employees were prosecuted for providing prostitution and pornography. It followed a raid in May in North Jakarta on a shophouse where gay men were gathering at a sauna. Police arrested 141 men but 126 were released the next day while 10 were prosecuted for violations of the 2008 anti-pornography law.

Surveys carried by Jakarta-based pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting paint a mix picture of public opinion in the world’s largest Muslim majority country, and one long seen as moderate and tolerant.

In a poll taken in March 2016, 47.5 percent of respondents who know or have heard about LGBT agreed that same-sex relations are forbidden by religion while 34 percent said they totally agreed with that view.

But in surveys taken in September and December last year, a large majority of the 1,220 respondents saw the LGBT community as a threat. In the December survey, 87.6 percent said they felt threatened by LGBT people, up from 85.4 percent in September.

More than half of the respondents, or 53.3 percent, said they could not accept if a member of their families was gay and 79.1 percent objected to having LGBT people as neighbors.

However, 57.7 percent of the respondents also acknowledged that LGBT people have the right to live in the country and 50 percent agreed the government should ensure that LGBT people’s rights are protected.

“The majority of citizens also object if a LGBT person becomes a government official, such as mayor, governor, or president,” said Ade Armando, the director of the polling firm.

“Even though the public views the LGBT people negatively and is being discriminative by refusing to support them to become public officials, the public does not discriminate when it comes to LGBT people living as regular citizens,” Armando added.

The article was first published in the Bangkok Post

 

Indonesia maintains its stance on Syria following pressure from US and its allies

Indonesia said its position remains the same after the US, the UK and France called on it to join forces in pressuring Syria’s Assad regime about its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Envoys from the three countries on Thursday asked to meet Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and requested that the country go further in its stance on Assad’s regime.

Arrmanatha Nasir, Foreign Ministry spokesman, told journalists on Friday that Indonesia was deeply concerned about developments in Syria after the US and its allies’ missile strikes.

Nasir said during the meeting that the three Western countries’ ambassadors conveyed their views on Syria, while Marsudi reiterated Indonesia’s position issued on Apr. 14 after the strike, which underlines the need for all parties to respect international laws and norms, in particular the UN charter on international peace and security.

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Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met with the UK’s ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, the US’s Joseph R. Donovan and France’s Jean-Charles Berthonne on Thursday, Apr. 19 to hold talks about the situation in Syria. Photos: Twitter/@Menlu_RI

Indonesia also “strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons by any parties in Syria” and called on all parties to show restraint and prevent an escalation of the deteriorating situation.

Indonesia stressed the importance of a comprehensive resolution of the conflict in Syria through negotiations and peaceful means and expressed concern about the security of civilians, calling on all parties to ensure that the safety of women and children was always a priority.

Beginda Pakpahan, an international relations lecturer at Universitas Indonesia, said that the country’s position on Syria was clear and reflected its free and active foreign policy.

“They (the ambassadors) should be aware of Indonesia’s position,” Pakpahan said.

Rene Pattiradjawane, a former Kompas daily senior journalist and foreign policy commentator, said that it was natural the three countries would seek support from Indonesia as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

But with its free and active foreign policy, Indonesia could not support US and its allies’ unilateral strike on Syria and it should not be interpreted as espousing either Russia or Syria.

“Indonesia sees this more as a humanitarian problem with a lot of collateral damage,” he said.

According to the Foreign Ministry, there are up to 2,000 Indonesian citizens in Syria.

Moazzam Malik, the UK’s ambassador to Indonesia, said after Thursday’s meeting that he and fellow ambassadors to Indonesia, the US’s Joseph R. Donovan and France’s Jean-Charles Berthonne, would like Indonesia to join them in holding the Assad regime accountable for the suspected misuse of chemical weapons against their own citizens and the abuse of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Malik said that since Indonesia would soon become a committee member of the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), they would like it to put pressure on Syria and Russia to open access for the investigation in Douma.

This story was first published in Arab News

 

Indonesian university wages war on ISIS — with animations

Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time.

When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage “jihad”.

When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.

“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.

“This is also jihad,” he said.

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A screen grab from “Kembali dari Suriah” showing Ahmad, Udin, Ari and their teacher. The four characters appear in an animated clip aimed to counter radicalism among teenagers.

Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Suriah,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the first 20 clips in Yogyakarta.

Muhammad Wildan, Cisform’s director, said the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.

“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.

Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.

Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.

“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.

Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.

Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to ISIS online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.

“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.

She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.

A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border to Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.

“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said.

The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017.

Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges.

Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.

“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.

This story was first published in Arab News

World’s fastest sinking city Jakarta to subside up to 2 meters in less than a decade

Jakarta city administration’s recent raid on 80 high-rise buildings along the Indonesian capital’s main business thoroughfare, which showed that 37 buildings are not equipped with infiltration wells and are alleged to have failed to comply with regulations on the use of groundwater, is another confirmation of what experts have warned that the city is well on its way to become an underwater metropolis.

The 2017 World Ocean Review, which was published in November last year in Berlin, reports that Jakarta is currently the fastest sinking city in the world, subsiding at a rate much faster than other coastal metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants in Southeast Asia such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Manila.

According to the report, Jakarta, which is partly built on peaty soils, is an “extreme example of a sinking city” with many of its high-rise buildings and the commercial center are sinking in the soft subsurface by up to 10 centimeters annually.

The abstraction of groundwater for drinking water supply is also contributing to this effect and it is feared that the sinking will accelerate. Groundwater normally acts as a natural abutment that counterbalances the weight of built-up areas bearing down on the substrate, while another factor that contributes to Jakarta land subsidence is compaction of the ground.

“Without countermeasures and a reduction of groundwater abstraction, by the year 2025 parts of Jakarta are likely to have sunk by a further 180 centimeters,” the World Ocean Review reports.

To come up with resolutions on how coastal metropolis can adapt to the land subsidence and sea level change, scientists at Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) and University of Bremen’s Institute of Sociology in Germany are working on research projects in Jakarta, Singapore and Manila.

Chief sociologist Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge, who is one of the scientists behind the World Ocean Review, said they are seeking to find answers on how policies and standardized practices for living with sea level rise, which are communicated by international donors can be translated into local context and are politically legitimized.

“Our recent findings so far are that the relative sea-level change serves as a floating signifier to justify investment in infrastructure to transform the coastal areas and acculturation to living with water,” Hornidge told a group of international journalists during a visit to the institution in Oct. 2017.

The evil twin of global warming: ocean acidification

But sea level rise, which is rising by around 3 millimeters annually according to the World Ocean Review, is not the only problem faced by people living in coastal areas. Those that are driven by climate change, such as ocean warming and ocean acidification, are adding to the coastal inhabitants’ woes.

Ocean acidification or the rising acid in seawater because the ocean partly absorbs the carbon dioxide that humans pump into the atmosphere, poses another threat to ocean life and marine ecosystem, impairs life in the ocean, and compromises important ecosystem services it provides to humankind, such as fish, which serve as the primary source of protein for a billion people, mainly in developing countries, and the fisheries industry that provides jobs for millions of people, especially those living in coastal areas.

Scientists have coined the terms “the other carbon dioxide problem” or the “evil twin of global warming” for ocean acidification, which has increased by 30 percent since 1850, according to Dr. Ulf Riebesell, a marine biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in the northern German seaside town of Kiel.

Riebesell, who led more than 250 scientists from a network of 20 German research institutions to conduct an eight-year research on ocean acidification called Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification (BIOACID), said the changes in seawater acid is happening 10 times faster than it would have been if it was happening due to natural process.

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Dr. Ulf Riebesell, a marine biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel explained about ocean acidification. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Findings of the research, which was conducted from 2009 to 2017, were presented at last year’s United Nations climate change conference COP23 in Bonn. Some of the findings show that many organism are able to withstand ocean acidification but may lose the ability if also exposed to other stressors such as warming, loss of oxygen or pollution. Ocean acidification and warming reduce the survival rates of some fish species’ early life stages, which will likely reduce fish stocks and yields. Climate change also alters the availability of prey for fish and as a consequence may affect their growth and reproduction.

Scientists involved in BIOACID research found that ocean acidification reduces the ocean’s ability to store carbon and will change the distribution and abundance of fish species. The change will have a significant impact on economic activities such as small-scale coastal fisheries and tourism. This calls for therefore, the scientists said it is crucial to consider ocean acidification and warming in fish stocks and marine areas management.

Hans-Otto Portner, co-coordinator of BIOACID and marine ecophysiologist at Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research said for scientists to be able to project the steady level of ocean acidification based on historical events would depend on political decisions.

“The oceans are warming, just like the rest of the planet. They are losing oxygen and acidifying. The overarching trend is marine life now is being depleted,” he added.

Riebesell said the global community needs to understand the many ways in which humans depend on the ocean and its services and it will be for humans’ own benefit if carbon dioxide emissions are reduced that it could limit global warming to less than 2 degree Celsius.

“The future of this planet depends on us. Wouldn’t it be a great achievement if the age of human dominance on earth goes down in history as an era of rethinking and changing behavior?” Riebesell added.

Portner said all countries need to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions drastically by the middle of the century if they want to meet the Paris climate targets.

“The current world climate report indicates that net-zero emissions are a precondition for limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. However, reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone may not be sufficient,” Portner said.

Coral reef restoration

Keeping global warming further down to below 1.2 degrees Celsius with limited concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions could help to preserve about half of the tropical coral reefs, the BIOACID research found, adding more attestation on how ocean acidification will impact humans.

“Coral reefs provide habitat for millions of species, coastal protection, revenues from tourism and biodiversity heritage for the future,” Riebesell said.

According to Marine Policy journal published in August 2017, coral reefs around the world is one of the most notable examples of nature-based tourism spurred by a single ecosystem, which attract tourists and generate revenues in 100 countries and territories, including Indonesia.

Coral reef tourism is estimated to generate roughly US$35.8 billion dollars globally every year or over 9 percent of all coastal tourism value in coral reef countries around the world. Indonesia ranked second among the 10 jurisdictions in the world that have the highest total reef tourism value, amounted to US$3,098 million annually, while neighboring Thailand and the Philippines ranked fourth and seventh, generating US$2,410 million and US$1,385 million per year respectively.

Dr. Sonia Bejarano, head of the reef systems workgroup at Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen, said coral reefs are biodiversity treasure in need of science for sustainability.

Bejarano and a group of scientists at ZMT has been conducting research projects on coral reefs in various parts of the world, including in Indonesia, where they found that a receding destructive fishing practice in an Indonesian marine park has led to a rise in herbivorous fish.

“There is a high social and economic dependence on coral reefs,” Bejarano said, adding that their research is directly applicable in coral reef restoration.

 

 

Indonesia’s rampant coastal erosion preventable with research-based planning

The northern coastline on Indonesia’s main island of Java is sinking annually at a fast rate, causing land subsidence and threatening residents of communities living near the shore.

Experts say economic developments and land conversion from mangrove forests to industrial or residential uses are among the factors causing the sea level to rise and water to creep farther inland.

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North Jakarta’s vulnerable coastline converted to high-rise apartment buildings. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

But in Jakarta, the nation’s capital, groundwater extraction remains the main culprit behind land subsidence, as up to 65 percent of its residents rely on underground water sources. Land subsiding is anywhere from 3 to 18 cm annually in various parts of the city and a lack of mitigation would lead to 30 percent subsidence in 2050, Abdul Malik Sadat Idris, an official from the National Development Planning Agency, warned in February.

“Land subsidence is obvious along the northern coastline of Java at a rate of 1 to 25 cm annually,” said Dr Heri Andreas, a geodesist from Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in West Java.  “This trend is a warning for us that land subsidence will continue to happen unless we do something to stop or withhold it, since land subsidence is like a silent killer that will affect our communities as it causes inundation and land to erode.”

Indonesia’s 54,700 kilometer coast line is the second-longest in the world after Canada, and its mangrove ecosystem is the largest in the world, covering 3,489,141 hectare or 23 percent of the world’s mangrove ecosystem, according to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

These mangrove forests are part of an estimated 30 million-hectare coastal area ecosystem along with peatlands, wetlands, lagoons, river deltas, sea bank, marshes and evaporation ponds, many of which are located close to human settlements that are less than 30 meters above sea level.

They support to a wealth of life as a natural habitat for various species, and also serve as a buffer to seawater intrusion. At the same time, they store fresh water and contain high carbon reserve that help mitigate climate change. A mangrove forest that extends at least 100 meter inland could suppress rising tide by 13 percent to 66 percent.

“But most of our wetlands and 52 percent of our mangrove forests have been destroyed. We have lost 85 percent of the mangrove areas on the northern coast of Java as they have been converted to human settlements or man-made fish ponds. In some areas, the sea level has even risen,” said Agung Kuswandono, a deputy minister in charge of natural resources coordination at the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs.

Nyoman Suryadiputra, director of Wetlands International Indonesia said the only course of action now is an immediate halt to wetlands conversion.

“Many of us don’t realize the fact that Indonesia’s largest fresh water reserves are in peatlands instead of lakes or rivers,” he said, adding that at the same time, climate change also causes sea level to rise and these two situations are increasing the risk of further calamities along the coastline.

Jakarta is not the only city in the region suffering from land subsidence. Other Asian mega cities such as Tianjin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Osaka, Manila, Bangkok, Dhaka, and Bombay also have some areas that have slipped below sea level, said Dr Athanasios Vafeidis from Department of Geography, Coastal Risks and Sea-Level Rise of Kiel University in Germany.

According to Vafeidis, calamity could be prevented if people are willing to adapt to the sea level rise and prepare for it by looking at data and historical facts. Planning based on such knowledge is less costly compared to the damage that could result from ignoring the facts, or having to take action after the fact.

“Adaptation costs are generally lower than direct damage costs. If we include indirect impacts, benefits are even larger,” Vafeidis told a group of visiting international journalists to the institution in late 2017 organized by

“The costs depend on the timing of adaptation but proactive adaptation pays,” he said.

Dr Vafeidis added that the rise in sea level has been accelerating for the past decade and will continue to do so. The rates the same but some regions could see acceleration three times faster than others. Without adaptation, he said, many areas will become unviable by 2100.

“A better understanding of adaptation and decision-making under certainty is essential, especially for vulnerable regions such as deltas and small islands,” he said.

Klaus Schwarzer from Institute of Geosciences, Sedimentology, Coastal and Continental Shelf Research at Kiel University, cited the Mekong in Vietnam, Chao Praya in Thailand and Mahakam in Indonesia’s Kalimantan island as examples of deltas that are vulnerable, based on current estimates of the relative sea level rise to 2050, including land subsidence in the deltas.

If no adaptions are in place, the number of people displaced from the Mekong delta would be extreme at more than one million, while anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 people would have to flee their communities along the Chao Praya and Mahakam.

Schwarzer said more research on coastal zones would be essential to provide knowledge that could be applied in drafting potential future scenarios so that people can continue to make use of the coastal environment. However, such usage must be sustainable with better management of coastal ecosystem resources, given that some 2.8 billion people in the world now live within 100 km of a coast.

Mangrove forests that help to keep the tides at bay continue to be cut down, but very few people are talking about the loss of this essential element of coastal protection, said Martin Zimmer, a professor for mangrove ecology at Bremen’s University of Bremen.

Zimmer said researchers are developing an approach mangrove spatial conservation that focuses on humans needs while also maintaining biodiversity.

“It is an ecosystem design that focuses on what people in the area need. We implement an ecosystem that functions for them, not just to make the areas look beautiful. To protect coastal areas, we can’t just build dykes or other structures, but we do that with something that is naturally there, which is mangrove,” Zimmer said.

Coastal zones serve as an essential lifeline for much of the world’s population, Schwarzer said, given 95 percent of international trade involves marine transport, which ends up in harbors.

Oceans are also important sources of food with 90 percent of the world’s fishery activity  is carried out in coastal zones.

“There is an increase in extreme storm surges and predictions of sea level rise. Coastal erosion already endangers about one-third of the world’s population,” Schwarzer said.

The original story was published in Bangkok Post