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Klaten Farmers Say No to AQUA-Danone Bottled Water Company

Klaten – Hundreds of farmers from numerous areas surrounding Klaten District, Central Java called on the district’s parliament to reject the coming of 2 bottled water companies into the area. They also called for the cease operation of an existing company, PT Tirta Investama (TI), producer of major bottled water brand AQUA-Danone, for making local farmers suffer.

”The government only thinks about getting more income from bottled water companies, but they have to prioritise the farmers. With one company sucking out the water now, farmers have had problems obtaining water. If added with two more companies, this will finish off the farmers (livelihoods),” stated one of the farmers participating in the action taking place at Klaten town square.

The farmers who were joined by activists including WALHI of Central Java in the Klaten People’s Coalition for Justice (Kraked) held speeches and carried banners aimed at passing vehicles and pedestrians before continuing to the parliament building.

The Klaten parliament members who were in session discussing the local budget for 2005 stopped and came out to invite the protestors in for a dialogue.

In the plenary hall, Head of Klaten Parliament, Harri Pramono, along with several parliament members and local government officials met with and hear out the farmers’ grievances.

Almost all farmers present reported difficulty in obtaining water to irrigate their farms during the dry seasons. This problem got worse especially after PT TI carried out exploration of the Sigedang spring at Polanharjo subdistrict.

The coalition coordinator, Putut Iriyanto, stated that the reasons for the permit granting which were increasing local income and providing jobs, were severely down weighted by the massive profits the company is making. Every month, the company pays 30 million rupiahs to the local government while sucking out 30,000 to 40,000 cubic meters of water and making a profit close to four million rupiahs from sales only.

Further disadvantage takes form in reduction of water in Polanharjo, Delanggu, Trucuk, Pedan, Ceper, Wonosari, Juwiring, and Karanganom subdistricts. As a results, quarrels among farmers often take place, planting cost increases due to the need of hiring pumps for irrigation, and villages wells dried out due to drilling efforts in attempt to find water for irrigation.

Some areas are in fact worse than others. During the last dry season, Juwiring subdistrict was witness to farmers’ quarrelling every single night. Quite often the quarrels got bigger into dangerous fights between groups of farmers. “Just to get water for our fields, we have to put our lives at stake, fighting our own friends,” reported  Sumartono, a farmer from Juwiring.

It gotten so bad that every time they need to water their fields, they came down armed with axes, saws, and hammers. Often prior to the impending fight, they got themselves drunk. “I do it to steel my nerves for the fight with other farmers,” complained Suyono of Kwarasan, Juwiring.

“I have just realised that the actual enemy are not my neighbors, but the government and PT Tirta Investama who has been conspiring for their own interests. That is why we made up our minds to drive them (the company) out of here,” added Sumartono.

The farmers demanded the closing down of the company and legal steps be taken over the suffering caused. In addition, they demanded the parliament to reject the proposed investment of two other bottled water companies.

In response, Head of Commission I of the Klaten parliament, Agus Riyanto, stated that his commission has agreed to reject any proposals for more bottled water companies operating in Klaten. This is due to the fact that the currently operating company has already generating a lot of protests from farmers and NGOs.

However, for the issue of closing down PT Tirta Investama, the parliament response was that the matter will need further discussion.

The majority of farmers althroughout Java depend their livelihoods on wet-rice cultivation (sawah). In few areas with heavy rainfall, rice farmers can generally depend on rainwater to water their fields while in most areas fields need to be watered during the dry season using spring-fed irrigation system. The Java island with its increasing population and environmental degradation has been experiencing longer droughts which led to serious ground water crisis.[ay][st]

Contact: Amri Yahya (081 2261 2241) - WALHI of Central Java

Source: http://www.eng.walhi.or.id

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