Give Back Our Wetlands : Gen Z Anxiety

  • In the past, wetlands in Indonesia built maritime civilization. One of them, the Musi River wetlands which gave birth to the Sriwijaya Chiefdom [7-12 AD] which made maritime civilization successful in the archipelago.
  • Since the arrival of the Dutch East Indies government, whose development was land-oriented, wetlands continued to decrease. Including the Musi River wetlands.
  • The impact is not only the loss of rich flora and fauna and the release of carbon, also the people living in the surrounding areas lose food and economic sources, as well as various traditions.
  • A number of Gen Z generations in Palembang are demanding the return of the Musi River wetlands. However, these efforts do not only come from government policy, but also from the Gen-Z generation's awareness of the importance of wetlands.

The Indonesian nation is a maritime nation. A nation whose ancestors spoke Austronesian languages . In the past, the Indonesian people controlled Southeast Asia, through a number of kingdoms, such as the Srivijaya Kingdom and the Majapahit Kingdom. This power is obtained from mastering various sciences, technology, and courage in utilizing the sea and wetlands. Starting from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, Sulawesi, Maluku and others.

As a maritime nation, Indonesian people live in two realms. On land and in water. Ary Prihardhyanto Keim, Ethnobiologist from BRIN Biosystematics and Evolution, calls him an "amphibian man". On land, Indonesian people get clean water, food, medicine, mineral metals, and wood as the main material for ships or boats and houses. Meanwhile, apart from being used as a means of transportation, the sea is also used for food.

Wetlands are ideal areas for Indonesian humans to settle. Because, apart from being close to swamps and rivers, it is a fast route to the sea and inland areas, it also provides various necessities of life. Starting from food, medicine, wood and other natural resources. Wetlands are a “supermarket” for marine humans.

However, after the arrival of the Dutch East Indies government several centuries ago, whose development was land-oriented, wetlands continued to decrease. The government of the Republic of Indonesia continued this. Wetlands are reclaimed, used as agricultural land, plantations, transmigrant settlements, factories and toll roads.

The remaining wetland area in Indonesia is 21 million hectares. Climate change makes wetlands increasingly damaged or in danger of disappearing. Its natural function as a carbon absorber and water flow regulator is increasingly reduced.

Ultimately, wetlands are no longer supermarkets. Wetlands turn into a source of disaster. Starting from land and forest fires, floods, decreasing water quality, to loss of wildlife habitat and various types of freshwater fish.

One example is the Musi River wetland in South Sumatra. The wetlands covering an area of ​​around three million hectares—some say 2.5 million hectares—are home to various ethnic groups who once gave birth and raised the Sriwijaya Chiefdom [7-12 AD].

Currently, most of the Musi River wetlands have been damaged or changed function.

Starting from the depletion of jungle forests by the activities of HPH [Forest Tenure Rights] companies, oil palm plantations, HTI [Industrial Plantation Forests], infrastructure such as transmigrant settlements, roads, factories, as well as waste from industrial and household activities.

Based on data from the Hutan Kita Institute [HaKI], around 1,123,119 hectares of Musi River wetlands have been converted into large-scale plantation concessions.

The impact?

"We are not only experiencing drought and flood disasters, we are also losing food and economic sources from declining fish populations and depleting forests," said Mahesa Putra [23], a young Palembang poet and writer, resource person for the discussion "Return Our Wetlands" in commemoration of Hari World Wetlands supported by  Indonesia, Rumah Sriksetra, and the Pulitzer Center in Kopi Mibar, Palembang, Sunday [4/2/2024].

The economic resources of the people in the Musi River wetland generally come from fishing and carpentry. "Aside from being sold fresh, fish is also processed into various culinary delights, while carpentry is used for houses and boats. The destruction of swamps, rivers and forests means that economic resources are lost."

“We live in poverty. As a result, for example, people in my hamlet [Muara Penimbung Ulu Village] become foreign workers, or there is an increase in crime in the hamlet. Apart from that, my generation lost various knowledge related to wetlands, such as culinary, medicine, and others. Then, climate change makes these conditions worse."

“So that our future is guaranteed, return our wetlands. "The government must produce policies that save the Musi River wetlands," he stressed.

Yulian Junaidi, lecturer and environmental activist from Sriwijaya University, stated that changes in the landscape and climate change in the Musi River wetlands have disrupted agriculture, especially rice fields.

Many rice fields failed to plant or harvest.

Yulian explained that rice fields in wetlands, such as lowland rice fields and tidal rice fields, are very disturbed by the condition of the land. Areas where the water takes longer to decrease can only be planted in May, while in areas where the water decreases more quickly, rice can be planted in January or February.

"However, the rainy or dry season lasts a long time, due to changes in the landscape and climate changes, resulting in crop failure or crop failure."

The importance of wetlands

Dian Maulina, a lecturer from UIN Raden Fatah Palembang, said that although most of the young generation, the Gen-Z generation, in South Sumatra live in wetlands, not all of them understand.

For example, the flood in Palembang was called a disaster, even though it was a natural event that had been going on for a long time. "Because most of the Palembang area is wetland, which is flooded with water when it rains and dries up when it's dry."

“What happened was a failure of adaptation. In the past, the people of Palembang did not see floods as a disaster, because their houses or buildings used poles, thus avoiding waterlogging. Houses with pillars or stilts disappear and are replaced by houses without pillars, so that during the rainy season, floods inundate the houses. "In fact, quite a few water catchment areas, such as swamps and river tributaries, have been filled up and turned into land," he explained.

So, various efforts are needed to encourage understanding of wetlands. "Both in the world of education, as well as in various communities or civil society organizations."

Previously, Elvira Belinda Adisma from Wikigambut South Sumatra explained that her organization had made various efforts. For example, mobilizing the younger generation to write about knowledge related to peat swamps.

Women survive in wetlands

During the World Wetlands Commemoration activities 2-4 February 2024, dozens of photos by Nopri Ismi, Mahesa Putra and Humaidy Kenedy, related to the Musi River wetlands, were also exhibited.

The photos, most of which were published in Indonesia , apart from depicting the condition of the Musi River wetlands which have been damaged due to changes in the landscape, also the condition of the women who survive in utilizing freshwater fish from the Musi River wetlands. They process food from existing fish to make pekasem [fermented fish], smoked fish, salted fish, kemplang, crackers and pempek.

The highlight of the activity, Sunday [4/2/2024], a number of young Palembang poets read poetry related to the Musi River wetlands. They present archives of memories, longing and loss.

Those who read poetry included Mahesa Putra, Unggul NU, Kemas Yudha, Reza Maulana, Siti Wahyu Vitamagistra, Qaf Muhammad, Aurelly Nada Salsabila, as well as poets JJ Polong [Palembang] and Arbi Tanjung [Pasaman, West Sumatra].

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