Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nothing Quite Like It for Cooling the Blood

Many people have been saddened this week by the death of the famous TV naturalist and mental case, Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. The outpouring of emotion in Australia has been something akin to that which happened in the UK when old Diana crashed off this mortal coil, only with more stubbies I would imagine. So as a tribute I thought I'd reflect upon the state of the Indonesian environment, which has been hitting the headlines again recently and seems to be in a pretty parlous state.

The biggest environmental story is of late, aside from the forest fires, is the continuing mud lark over in East Java. The sludge (which is still spewing forth after three months) now covers some 210 hectares and seven villages. I can't recall ever hearing of such a strange disaster happening before in the world but it is indeed a calamity of biblical proportions. Perhaps the whole catastrophe really is Allah's riposte to the continuing corruption and sleaze in this country. In this scenario, I guess the mud will eventually cover the whole island of Java until it reaches Jakarta and buries us all. Shopping malls, busways, markets and, of course, parliament will all be entombed in gunk like some high-tech Pompeii, ready for future archaeologists to discover.

Apparently, the disaster was caused by the usual corner cutting, law flouting attitude beloved of big businesses the world over (but especially here). The company concerned, Lapindo, neglected to install a thick protective casing in the mine which would have prevented the cacky tsunami from occurring.

This sounds like pretty familiar territory for this country. I remember a friend once telling me that if you wanted to build a house here, you have to supervise the whole operation the whole time. This means going to the suppliers, buying the good quality cement yourself and sitting there watching whilst the brickies build the entire damn thing. Failure to do so will result in the contractors cutting corners, buying the cheapest materials and generally doing a shoddy job on your project in order to maximize profit margins. You will be left with a house of about the same strength and resilience as one made out of tempe. This may explain why so many brand-new houses here look so awful after about three years, but I digress.

Certainly, if this disaster had been caused by a foreign mining company, the people concerned would all have been imprisoned by now. Perhaps, I wouldn't be here either as I suspect that there would be sweepings against palefaces and that a racially motivated, knee-jerk nationalistic backlash of the kind that so often prevails in RI would have happened.

The mud wave, though, was caused by a company partially owned by Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Abdurizal Bakrie. So instead of going to jail, the management of Lapindo, according to a recent bizarre report in the good old JP, gets to make a soap opera about the disaster which will put forward their, "Heroic," side of the story. I'm not quite sure what is so heroic about criminal corporate negligence but perhaps the drama will be of some entertainment and comfort to many East Javanese, providing that they manage to wipe the sludge off their TV sets first. Meanwhile, what has been Mr. Bakrie's take on the whole disaster? "Don't ask me," he has been quoted as saying. Super.

The latest clean up plan involves pumping all of the highly toxic mud into the sea which could apparently deplete local marine life by up to 50%. I'd hazard a guess that this is the cheapest option but we won't ask old AB about it. Other politicians however, have been far less taciturn in their assessment of this sticky situation. The Energy and Resources Minister, for example, said that, "It is necessary to explore the utilization of the mud for positive purposes." Well let's have a think shall we? What can the country do with 97 million billion tonnes of mud?

Well, maybe anti-Porn Bill campaigners could have bikini clad mud wrestling as an attraction at their next rally. Alternatively, salons and spas could use the stuff as rejuvenating face packs... those toxins would really lighten that skin by a few tones. More pointedly, campaigners could try daubing some of the stuff on Mr Bakrie's no doubt well guarded house and cars. On the other hand, maybe the goo could be poured into huge moulds in order to make monorail support columns, which are still looking a bit few in number around town. The possibilities are endless; we should look upon this disaster as a blessing and an opportunity.....

Simon Pitchforth