Wrong Direction for Komodo Tourism

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe development of tourism in the Komodo National Park threatens to sideline local people. The original habitat of the giant lizards is also threatened with destruction.

    The government seems determined to go ahead with the development of strategic projects that look wonderful on paper but that bring no benefits to local people and damage the environment. Criticism and opposition are simply ignored. For example, the government's plan to develop the Komodo National Park into a premium tourist resort is going ahead despite opposition from locals over the last two years.

    There is nothing wrong with the initiative to make use of natural resources in the interests of the local economy. But the voices of local people, especially indigenous people, must be heard. Environmental conservation must not be sacrificed for economic gains. Unfortunately, this is what is happening with the project to develop the super-priority destination of Labuan Bajo in West Manggarai Regency, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. A number of findings on the ground have shown that these two important aspects are being ignored.

    Over the last five years, the government has awarded companies concessions covering of hundreds of hectares to manage ecotourism in a number of islands within the Komodo National Park. Three of these companies are Komodo Wildlife Ecotourism, Segara Komodo Lestari and Synergindo Niagatama. A number of documents and witness accounts have revealed irregularities in the process of granting these permits.

    For example, the ministry of the environment and forestry affairs intentionally changed the land-use plan for Tatawa Island, which is now the concession of Synergindo Niagatama. Originally, only 6,490 hectares on the island were allocated for commercial use. Now the government has agreed for this area to be expanded to 17,497 hectares. Meanwhile, the zoning on to other islands that are reportedly being eyed for tourism development, Muang and Bero, is also under threat of being changed. It seems that these two islands, which are currently in the core zone of the national park, will be rezoned so that they can be used for the development of premium resorts.

    The changes to the land-use plan and the zoning of the national park have the potential to damage the balance of the ecosystem there. On top of this will be the construction of villas and resorts and the drilling of wells to supply water for the facilities. There are thousands of Komodo dragons, wild birds and other rare animals whose lives will be threatened if these changes are not done carefully. What is the point of developing premium ecotourism if the balance of nature is ignored?

    The local people are also under threat. East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Laiskodat is reported to have ordered thousands of people living on Komodo and Rinca islands to move home. The environment ministry has denied these reports and claims that it is only relocating their places of work. The problem is that these people have no choice but to move if the source of their livelihoods is relocated. The concept of tourism development that does not improve the lives of local people is at odds with the government’s initial desire to grow the local economy.

    All of the mistakes concerning the development of tourism in the Komodo National Park arise from the government’s mistaken view of environmental conservation. There is the impression that the government considers it as just another factor that must not disturb the main priority of attracting foreign currency and bringing about economic growth. This is a clear example of the obsolete and outdated concept of developmentalism.

    Capitalism in the millennium era no longer exists without values, yet alone believes that the means always justify the ends. Without a radical change of perspective, the government’s development strategy could go awry. No high-class tourist will want to spend their money in a resort known for environmental damage and that threatens the survival of rare animals. A massive campaign by international environmental organizations will damage Indonesia's credibility and will lead to wealthy tourists being reluctant to come.

    It is not too late for President Joko Widodo to change the plan for the Komodo National Park. After all, the development of the premium tourist resort is only partially complete. As a first step, the government must restore the concept of the Labuan Bajo tourism development to real ecotourism. This means making no changes to the environment at all and including local people as an integral component. If this concept is a success, it will be the pride of Indonesia when the ASEAN and G20 summits are held there in three years.

    Indonesia was once a pioneer of sustainable development under the leadership of environment minister Emil Salim. In the face of the very real and urgent climate crisis, we need to return to this kind of wisdom. A failure to preserve the environment will have long-term consequences for the future of our children.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine