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Banda waste program - PARNEK, Environment Matters

Magga7Recently my partner and I journeyed to the Banda Islands. A very remote part of Indonesia, better known as the Spice Islands. The Bandas used to be famed as the only place in the world to acquire Nutmeg and Cloves. Now thanks to colonialism nutmeg and cloves are grown in other parts of the world and the Bandas are mostly quiet. The guide book listed these Islands as having pristine waters and perfect snorkelling conditions, just what we avid flipper junkies were after.

We arrived and checked into a guesthouse located on the shores of Banda Neira, with its own jetty close to the public wharf, and a view of Gunung Api - a conically classic volcano. Ecstatic at having at last arrived in this piece of paradise, we leaned over the planks to gaze into the reputed crystal clear water. And it was, so clear that along with the brightly coloured reef fish, you could pick every piece of rubbish out.

With uncanny timing the resident at the home next to our guesthouse casually tossed a full bucket of household rubbish including all manner of plastics into the water, and it all floated right past our stunned selves. We stayed a number of days at this guesthouse and the nonchalance and frequency with which the plastic and rubbish was tossed off the wharf into the sea we observed was not an isolated occurrence. With limited Bahasa we asked the guesthouse manager about the rubbish practices on Banda Neira. He said there was a tip, but it cost money to take your rubbish there - easier to burn the rubbish in the street and even easier to just throw into the ocean. When he himself had queried the neighbours on their practice they believed he was only concerned about the tourism, which was no concern of theirs. But the problem goes deeper with boat transport an essential lifeline between islands and propeller fouling by the plastic bags an everyday danger. There is also the issue for the environment both due to smothering and ingestion in the ocean, and due health concerns from the burning of plastics on the land.

Having just worked 3 years on marine debris in northern Australia, I could see the same plastics travelling out to sea from Banda Neira that we were collecting off our beaches. It felt like an insurmountable problem, to tackle the issue here when people were not even aware an issue existed!

Then we met Magga Fira.

Magga6Magga lives at a small village out of Banda Neira called Merdeka. He cares passionately about the future, the health of the children, and the environment. He saw the increase in plastic flowing down the drains and out to sea, and the people burning plastic in an effort to deal with the increasingly disposable culture within a community with no real structure to deal with it. He began to gather information and then single-handedly developed a program to deal with the rubbish in his village area. Engendering the support of his local council and the schools in 2009 he launched PARNEK (environment matters - formerly Selamatkan Banda).

PARNEK works to raise awareness of the flow of rubbish and the impacts to the village if it is not managed correctly. Magga and his team of 20 like-minded people began by introducing a rubbish collection policy to Merdeka in combination with information sharing and awareness raising. Magga translates any information he get his hands on into Indonesian to help people better understand the impacts of plastics on health and environment. The actual program consists of suppling 2 bins per house - one for organics and one for plastics and all other rubbish, and collection. The organics go to the many gardens as compost, and the plastics to the local tip. Three times a week the team go around and collect the rubbish and take it away, with the cost to households of around IRP 10,000 each a month. This is a policy now implemented by 200 households of Merdeka and the success is evident. The streets are clean as are the drains and corner bins take random street rubbish too. Magga tells me it has taken time to expand the program to all his village but now the support is 100%, in fact the next village over is currently petitioning PARNEK and Magga to start a program in their village. There are 5 villages in Banda Neira and Magga would like to see the rubbish program implemented in every single one step by step.

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We walk to the next village and frustrated Magga points out the drains blocked with plastics and organics, the rubbish everywhere. He says imagine what this will be like in 20 years. I think imagine what it will be like in 5! He says we have to follow through the drains and we walk to the ocean, again the rubbish is ubiquitous, in the streets in the drains. He is not surprised when I tell him we get the same brands washing up on our northern beaches from Indonesia. Someone is burning some plastic as we walk home and the toxic smell is everywhere - Magga takes ownership of this issue, he says this is my problem, big problem.
I ask him how his program is funded, he has a dance troupe he replies, and they perform to tourists for donations and the donations fund the clean up - the dancers take nothing for themselves. Apparently the government also provides so matched support which the council manages. however there is much corruption in the Government officials and though they offer support to Maga, little financial assistance comes through. He says support also comes - mostly - from Australians. On boats, they donate enough to purchase the bins and to help fund the clean ups, but the money is not consistent and not enough to expand the programme. Getting the information out there, talking to the council and providing bins all takes time and energy. Once the program is in place less is needed to maintain it, and PARNEK can expand.

It amazed me to find a person with the energy and drive to create such a unique program for Banda Islands. If this can be successful anywhere it can be successful here as the Bandas are a small isolated island group. Magga just needs a little help and a little help in Australian dollars can go a long way in Indonesian Rupees.
The 5 villages are 1. Merdeka 2. Rajawali 3. Dwiwarna, 4. Kampoung Baru 5. Nusantara
Only Merdeka currently has any sustainable effective method and drive to deal with their Rubbish, and that is really through Magga's organisation.

Thanks to Jen Goldberg for this article.