Environmental activists on Tuesday called on the Indonesian government to declare the inability of fishing families nationwide to earn a living because of months of bad weather a national disaster.
“The national disaster status is crucial because it would smoothen the coordination process between the central government and the regional government for the distribution of relief aid,” said Riza Damanik, the secretary general of the Fisheries Justice Coalition (Kiara).
Raising the current social disaster status to national disaster would allow the state to provide more relief assistance to the affected fishermen.
“The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency [BMKG] has said the bad weather will last at least until April,” Riza said.
Earlier, the Social Affairs Ministry had said that to help nearly 474,000 fishermen — and their families — whose livelihoods have been affected, the maritime affairs and fisheries minister, Fadel Muhammad, had asked district heads and governors to dip into rice reserves and funds from the Social Affairs Ministry.
Salim Segaf Al Jufri, the social affairs minister, said his ministry had already distributed about Rp 540 billion ($60 million) in development funds to regional governments to help the fishermen and their families.
However, environmental watchdogs say this isn’t enough, arguing that the government first has to get its numbers right.
Selamet Daryoni, the director of urban environment at the Indonesian Green Institute, questioned the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries’ data on the number of fishermen.
“The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, for instance, has only listed 3,084 fishermen in the Thousand Islands and Muara Angke [in Jakarta],” Slamet said. But he added there were other fishing villages in Jakarta, with more than 6,000 fishermen in places such as Marunda, Muara Baru, Kali Baru, Cilincing, Muara Tawar and Kamal Muara.
“If more than 6,000 fishermen living only 20 kilometers from the Presidential Palace are ignored by the government, what about the other fishermen in other parts of Indonesia?” he said.
The government’s mistakes in this regard, Slamet suggested, should not be tolerated. Oversights could have disastrous effects on the lives of thousands of citizens, he said.
Riza concurred, adding that many more fishing families were suffering than the government suggested. He said the actual number of fishermen across the country who had been unable to catch fish in the past months was far larger than what the state had estimated.
He said that at least 550,000 fishermen in 53 districts and municipalities across the archipelago had been affected by freakish weather conditions.
“At the moment the government only provides 13,721 tons of rice every two weeks,” he said, adding that more was needed.
Riza also said inaccurate data would influence the kind and amount of aid the government would provide.
“The government needs to do a lot more to help out more than 550,000 fishermen and women during bad weather conditions,” said Tejo Wahyu Jatmiko, the coordinator of the Alliance for Prosperous Villages.
Dedy Ramanta, the national secretary of the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen’s Association (KNTI), criticized the government for only reacting to deteriorating conditions and not preparing a long-term strategy to deal with the effects of climate change, especially for fishermen whose livelihood options are limited.
“The government needs to implement an insurance program and also give capital assistance so they can build small businesses,” he added.
Tiharom, 35, a traditional fisherman from Marunda in North Jakarta, said that in order to feed his family, he was now making sandals and doormats from garment industry waste.
He said that as a fisherman he could earn up to Rp 80,000 in one outing, enough to feed his family of six.
“However, now that the bad weather has really stopped me from going out to sea, I am trying to build a small business by turning garment waste into strong ropes and then producing sandals and doormats,” he said.
However, supply of materials and marketing posed serious problems, he added.
“I am not sure if this job will go anywhere or whether it will just keep me busy during the bad weather,” he said.