In 2015, one of the worst fire haze disasters in Indonesia occurred in Kalimantan. It’s not the first time the fire wreaked havoc there. The story goes back to 1995, from the Mega Rica Project (MRP) failure in Kalimantan’s peatland. The project initiated 1 million hectares of peatland to be turned into food barn (lumbung pangan). As part of the project, a canal system was developed. Unfortunately, it made the peatlands dry so that they can get burnt easily. In one of the affected cities, Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, the pollution level during 2015’s fire disaster reached 1300% above the healthy air threshold for humans. Imagine how dangerous this event was for the lungs of the people.
This documentary showcases the larger extent of the negative impacts of the failure in 1995. Not only from the health side but the economic side, all were affected significantly. The local community’s livelihood deteriorated because the land used for their livelihoods degraded and neglected. As a result, they get fewer income sources for living. One of them resorted to relying on catching fish that cannot be obtained all the time and it got worse after MRP. In terms of education, schools were forced to close because of the thick smog. The learning process was relatively ineffective. The story unveiled in this documentary highlights the degraded peatland due to the water resources’ mismanagement back in MRP days – that has impacted the locals until recent years.
Converting available land for agriculture is indeed a promising answer to fulfill people’s food security. However, the devil is in the details. Not only the physical (land) feasibility study, the fitness of the project for the people should also be noted. Many studies have underlined the negative impacts of MRP in various aspects, and this documentary shows the very perspective of the people who lived in the area. In the future, it is imperative for the authority to be more careful in terms of science and reality on the ground to initiate projects that genuinely aim to improve the welfare of the people.