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.