Environmental Service, Spatial Planning and Flooding Alleviation in Kalimantan

Written by Musnanda Satar

Climate Change Mitigation In 2016, the Provincial Government of East Kalimantan launched a Green Development Agreement which was carried out together with the parties. © M. Arif Rifqi

Natural disasters are not something uncommon in Indonesia. Unfortunately, the trend of natural disasters is increasing every year. According to BNBP data, in 2022, from January to April 26, there were 1,381 natural disaster incidents, most of which were flooding, totaling 536 incidents. In 2021, the biggest flooding happened at the beginning of the year in South Kalimantan, which cost a loss of around Rp 1.2 trillion. Even though flooding is caused by high rainfall, Kalimantan is already associated with flooding whenever the rainy season starts.

As if it has become an annual agenda, floodings happen in provincial capitals like Samarinda, Banjarmasin, and Pontianak during the rainy season. In 2019, flooding in Samarinda approximately cost a loss up to Rp 40 billion based on a calculation made by researchers from Mulawarman University. Another estimate found that loss due to 20-years of flooding in Samarinda has reached trillions of rupiah.

Kalimantan is vulnerable to the risk of flooding. This vulnerability is also associated with its flat areas with provincial cities and other cities spread across the river. Another factor that needs to be considered is the history of residential development based on the river in Kalimantan. Based on a land coverage study in 2019 by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Kalimantan has 12.7 million hectares of secondary dryland forest and 9.4 million hectares of primary dryland forest. Kalimantan also has mangrove forest, which extends to approximately 484 thousand hectares, and 311 thousand hectares of swamp forest, consisting of 4.6 million hectares of shrubs and about 6.2 million hectares of plantation area (i.e., oil palm plantation).

Kalimantan land cover map.
Photo Caption Kalimantan land cover map. © Musnanda

One case study is the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, Samarinda, which is divided by the Mahakam River. Topographically, Samarinda is a combination of flat areas along the river and some small hills. Samarinda is located on the Mahakam River downstream areas. Mahakam River consists of its upstream areas, which extend up to the Mahakam Hulu Regency, swamps and partial peatlands in midstream areas, and its downstream areas dominated by lowlands. The hydrological state of Samarinda undoubtedly depends on the upstream areas, in which its forest coverage has decreased, and only 68% of it remains. The rest of Samarinda is dryland farm, plantation, and shrubs areas. The central areas of the Mahakam River are under the Belayan and Bongan watersheds territories, which are dominated by oil palm plantation areas and industrial forests, and half of them are conservation areas.

In many discourses regarding conservation, one commonly asked question is what are the economic benefits that can be gained if conservation is prioritized over economic development?

Under the context of long-term sustainable development, this question might be challenging to answer due to the long-term calculation of valid environmental values. The value also depends on the situation. For example, the water environmental capital will be high when the water amount is limited and the water quality is low, so it cannot be consumed.

A question that contradicts species conservation, like the orangutan, with economic interests commonly answered by prioritizing economy, keeps emerging. This value of forest existence can be calculated if it is related to natural disasters, such as when the water has submerged the city, where policymakers could directly see the impact of natural disasters.

Calculating “natural capital”

The natural values were already calculated a long time ago. One of the ways was through the natural capital concept, a group of natural assets or resources consisting of geological elements, soil, air, water, and living things in it (natural capital coalition).

Through this natural capital, people can calculate several benefit values called environmental services that support humankind. This natural capital concept calculates natural resources—living and non-living—that eventually become the ecosystem’s functions known as environmental services. This environmental service benefits people, and its values can be measured. In the conventional economy concept, the natural capital concept is called bioeconomy, in which renewable natural resources replace non-renewable natural resources.

Development concept that calculates environmental services needs to be implemented by involving all parties, especially those involved in land management. The application of principles to protect this natural capital needs to be done by involving residents and with support from the government. Examples of the involvements are giving incentives to people who manage their lands according to sustainable principles, protecting tree cover, creating terracing, and preventing water pollution due to waste or fertilization.

On a bigger scale, the government’s policy can be applied by buying or taking over the management of water-like areas (swamp, mangrove, peatland), restricting non-ecofriendly infrastructures (concrete coverage on water catchment area), and regulating hazardous materials that could cause water pollutions.

Improving environmental services can also be done by involving private sectors, such as giving management incentives financed by companies that utilize the environmental service of water like drinking water companies. Under the context of East Kalimantan and Samarinda, this approach can be associated with coal or oil palm companies that use water environmental services in their business operations. Under the context of flood management in Kalimantan generally, several studies about water environmental service supports and capacities, spatial hydrology modeling, and land coverage need to be conducted.

Important steps in implementing policy by incorporating natural capital and environmental services can be started by identifying important areas for conservation and/or management using sustainable principles, and supports and capacities of water and soil environmental services. The next step is to identify supporting policies such as incentive and decentive grants, spatial policy application, and lastly, development of monitoring system for policy applications.

Challenges in applying this policy are inadequate information, lack of interest from policymakers, and political opposition that is hostile to the good environmental management policy. In its application, the policy that supports natural capital and environmental services protection would depend on its ability to drive the community and other related stakeholders, including business owners. The involvement of business owners, for instance, can be incorporated into the natural resources and environmental services (e.g., water) usage in its production.

On the topic of the flood, the natural capital of environmental service of water can be calculated by considering the annual loss due to floods and how this can be changed by executing development that pays more attention to the environmental aspects. Under the context of the natural disaster, for instance, studies about how to position residential and commercial zones that are mindful of the environment. In the future, environmental impacts categorized as disasters can be alleviated or even prevented.

This policy application is not easy; for instance, the city spatial planning had been constructed and planned without the calculation of environmental service values or business activities that had been progressing. These premature developments are commonly used as a reason why the development concept that accentuates environmental services is hard to be implemented. However, if this concept is not applied soon, the accumulation of losses due to floods and landslides could be bigger than the investment needed for environmental-friendly policies.