Amanda Katili-Niode, who serves as the special assistant to the Indonesian Minister of Environment, said intervention from the home government and the world community must play a crucial role in mitigating Indonesian’s environmental crises.

Indonesia garnered media attention when the Southeast Asian tsunami devastated its coastal areas late last year.

Katili-Niode compared the response of the Indonesian government to the tsunami with the official response to the flooding in New Orleans.

“I think it takes a lot of communication (between high-level officials and people from the affected regions). By having high-level officials there, it could raise a lot of confidence,” Katili-Niode said.

She added that Indonesia has received a lot of international aid but has been unable to distribute the resources effectively.

“We have a very low capacity to absorb sustainable development,” she said, adding that 500 coastal reconstruction projects are currently pending.

In addition to dealing with the environmental consequences of the tsunami, Indonesia is also struggling to curb the dumping of hazardous waste and deforestation caused by its neighbors.

“Many of our neighboring countries have been dumping hazardous wastes on our islands because they say that they are hazardous to their countries,” Katili-Niode said with a laugh. Deforestation, which contributes to habitat loss and water runoff, is also a result of “Not In My Back Yard” – illegal logging conducted by companies from nearby countries that has contributed to the shrinking of Indonesian forests.

“A lot of them say that it is a private-to-private matter,” she said of the international community’s reaction when the Indonesian government asked them to take responsibility for the dumping of waste and illegal logging.

But Katili-Niode said the governments of the nations contributing to the pollution should intervene to protect Indonesia’s environment.

The decentralization of the government – regional governments are autonomous – and the lack of human resources, have made it difficult for the island nation to monitor compliance with environmental policies.

“We have 70,000 islands, and no one has the time and resources to look after them,” Katili-Niode said.

Indonesia is currently receiving help from other countries, especially Germany, to build a reliable infrastructure – including labs to measure progress toward environmental goals – to improve communication between national and regional governments.

“We try to give the regional governments some technical assistance, as well as coordination assistance,” Katili-Niode said.

Indonesia pioneered the Environmental Performance Rating Program, in which businesses participate voluntarily in letting the government evaluate how well they are complying with environmental codes. The program is effective because the rating is highly valued in Indonesia; companies that receive bad ratings usually lose stockholders.

According to Katili-Niode, the program has been adopted by Mexico and other nations.

Katili-Niode was invited to speak by the University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies after she attended the United Nations World Summit last week.

“I think it is a good opportunity to hear from an alumni who is involved with the environmental issues in Indonesia to talk to us,” center Director Linda Lim said. “We hope to build a relationship with Indonesia in the environmental area.”

The School of Natural Resources and Environment sponsored the event with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

“We have a number of collaborative projects in other countries, and I hope to hear more of the technical issues and policy issues in Indonesia,” said Jim Diana, associate dean of the SNRE.

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