Pekanbaru, Palembang, Manokwari, Jakarta, June – August 2019

In partnership with @wriindonesia

Peat Chaos

By Parliza Hendrawan

Enacting land-use change on peatlands and swamps is nothing new for Palembang. As someone who grew up in the city, I feel telling this story is important since we have to speak up about the possibility that the Palembang we once knew – all those swamps and wetlands – may soon be no more. Many of the city’s peatlands and swamps have been turned into housing estates, shopping centers, office buildings, and toll roads. The fact that swamps play an important role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem has been summarily dismissed by the local administration. As more and more peatlands and swamps are converted, their usefulness as water catchment areas decreases, and soon the city’s urban communities will have no other choice but to face the environmental consequences.

A swamp buffalo breeder in Rambutan, Banyuasin, shares his concerns that the animal might go extinct if mud from their natural wetland habitats keeps getting dug up to be processed into bricks or natural cement. A similar thing happens in nearby Talang Kelapa; dozens of years ago we could easily find typical peatland and swamp plants – such as kumpai, gelam, and purun – but they are now so few and far between.

Frequent flooding in the city indicates to local communities that water catchment areas are shrinking. But land-use change is not always forced by development projects initiated by the government or the private sector; the public also regularly takes part in changing the function of  peatlands and swamps for economic purposes.

Given the potential threats to our environment, I hope this photo story opens our eyes to the importance of protecting swamps, peatlands, and other water catchment areas from destructive short-term interests. Development is perhaps necessary to meet the needs of an urban society, but the wrong approach – one that leaves so little land for plants and animals – will only breed an environmental crisis for future generations.

Trash as Far as You Can See

By Adella Indah Nurjanah

This is a photo story about the Karya Jaya landfill in Palembang. This new landfill is supposed to replace the first ever landfill built in the city. I am particularly interested in exploring the relationship between the landfill and the people who live nearby. While taking my pictures, I discovered that the relationship is a complex one. On the one hand, the landfill provides a source of living, but on the other hand, the piling up and everyday burning of rubbish have undeniable adverse impacts on people’s health and hygiene. The one thing I remember most is how the landfill has changed the surrounding landscape: rice fields, swamps, and public roads are slowly transformed by the rubbish heaps.

I cannot imagine what will happen when Palembang’s waste production continues to increase that Karya Jaya landfill can no longer contain it. What other lands will be affected by the waste we produce everyday?

We Dig Up Sand

By Yustinus Yumthe

“Tong gale pasir. Tong tra kerja, tong kelap.”

“We dig up sand. If we don’t work, we starve.”

My photo story recounts how the traditional owners of Kampung Pami and Kampung Mandopi in North Manokwari mine sand from their beaches. I want to show how the region’s most valuable resource, i.e. sand, has been the backbone of life for the traditional land owners and transmigrant workers in the area. The Pamis and the Mandopis literally live off their land. They mine sand from the beaches to be used in many development projects in the urban centre of Manokwari.


But this photo story also questions the government’s policy on protecting local ecosystems. Sand mining in Manokwari is not illegal, but no regulations exist to temper its effects. In the long term, sand mining can destroy the coastal environment. Marine abrasion is a real threat, the main roads of the city will be regularly inundated with sea water if it continues unchecked. When they have dug up all the sand, what will happen to the residents of these two villages, both economically and ecologically?

Life Goes On

By Lidia Kristi

Everyday life in Rawa Bebek Rusunawa (government-subsidised flats) paints a story of how the state, who is supposed to ensure prosperity and freedom for its people, has instead made a decision to put them in misery, leaving them with so little to survive on. The Rawa Bebek flats were supposed to be part of the government’s solution for evicted residents, but the truth is they will never have ownership of their new place.

I tried to take a peek at life in the Rawa Bebek flats by documenting the daily lives of a family who were relocated from Kampung Akuarium. By doing so I had the chance to experience for myself how the Rawa Bebek residents struggle to make a living in such a confined space. Take Sri’s story as an example: she helps her husband support the family by selling rice to other residents of Rawa Bebek. But since her neighbours are also struggling to earn a living, Sri’s income is very limited. Some of these new residents of Rawa Bebek ended up commuting from their new home to their old one, a fair distance away. They went back to their old job in Pasar Ikan, Bukit Duri, or Penjaringan. This goes to show that relocation often fails to take into account the socio-economic context of the evicted residents’ old dwelling place, let alone transplant it to the new one. 

Uprooted from their old coastal environment, which holds not only economic but also social and cultural bonds over them, the residents of the Rawa Bebek flats are forced to live under crippling constraints. Life at the towering building tragically has already cost a life: a three-year-old child had fallen from the fourth floor due to poor safety standards. But despite the residents’ resentment, frustration, and hopelessness, life moves on. “That’s the only way we can survive here – to keep moving on.”

Life on Man-Made Island

By Amalya Purnama

Finding land for housing is one of a myriad of complex social and environmental problems on Panggang Island. The island has become one of the most densely populated residential areas within the Thousand Islands National Park, with a population of approximately 4,000 people living on the 11-hectare island. To meet the demand for more housing, the island’s residents illegally extended the coastline into the ocean by 200 meters. They piled up corals they harvested from the sea on the beach to create new land. New houses made of bricks with tiled or asbestos roofs, standing on top of coral rocks, became the new face of Panggang Island. The illegal land reclamation is definitely having an impact on the sustainability of the marine ecosystem, and which will eventually affect the island community’s livelihood. This “organic” reclamation, combined with waste from Jakarta’s 13 rivers, have already reduced the number of sea catches for fishermen around the island. The lack of space for vegetation to grow and help store groundwater has also caused a water crisis.

These issues are interrelated and contribute to a critical environmental issue facing the residents of the Thousand Islands district: management of limited resources, specifically sustainable land use. Here’s a picture of future life on Panggang Island: a place surrounded by sea, far from the hustle and bustle of city life, but with never-ending limitations. It’s a shame that, instead of limiting population growth and managing marine spatial planning wisely, a lot of socio-economic development programs are fixated on marine tourism which actually exacerbates ecological damage.

This photo story attempts to illustrate how land conflicts caused by high population density does not just affect urban communities, but also coastal communities and people who live on islands north of Jakarta. Panggang Island is simply a miniature of what is also happening in other densely populated areas in Indonesia and gives us a clue on what should be our long-term concern: trying to stop the degradation of resources that’s currently stretching our planet’s limits.