The Christian Church of West Sulawesi in Indonesia Opposes Hydroelectric Dam

The Christian Church of West Sulawesi in Indonesia Opposes Hydroelectric Dam


 The road to Kalumpang

The area of Kalumpang rests in the Karama river valley about 4 hours’ drive from the coast of West Sulawesi, Indonesia.  It is home to the Kalumpang people, location of the oldest archeological site yet discovered in Sulawesi, and the heartland of our partner church, Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Barat (GKSB, The Christian Church of West Sulawesi).

Historically the area has been isolated from the economic development on the coast.  The road into the area is mostly rock, mud and broken asphalt, with many streams to ford.  The main town in the valley has intermittent electricity from a small turbine on the river, but there is no phone service.  One government health clinic serves the area, but there is rarely a doctor there, and many of the schools have only one teacher.

 Workshop participants

CGMB has been active in supporting the effort of GKSB to improve the lives of its people and to develop its capacity for ministry.  We have given scholarships to three young women from the area, one for medical school and two for public health.  All three are committed to returning to their homeland to serve the health needs of their people.  Continuing education for GKSB pastors and elders has also been a priority, with at least two workshops a year for the past four years.  For me, it is a 2-3 day journey from my home in Kupang, Timor, but well worth the effort.

These efforts will be futile, however, if current government plans go forward.  The provincial governor signed an MOU with a company from China to build a series of hydroeletric dams in the area.  If built, they would inundate the valley, along with the majority of GKSB’s congregations.  The entire tribal homeland of West Sulawesi’s oldest inhabitants would be wiped out, the people scattered in resettlement areas, and their culture destroyed.  The government would call it “a sacrifice for development.”

 GKSB leadership

The government’s interest in power generation is understandable.  Up to now, most electrical power in Eastern Indonesia is generated by expensve diesel fuel, and any expansion of industry into the area will require a substantial increase in generating capacity. 

Efforts at reaching a compromise have fallen on deaf ears.  The people of Kalumpang proposed to dam only a portion of the valley that is sparsely populated, but their proposal was rejected.  This has led to suspicions that the Muslim majority on the coast are intent on destroying the Christian majority in the mountains.  GKSB has sought to quell this kind of speculation, which could lead to the kind of conflict between religious groups that has been so destructive in other parts of Eastern Indonesia.  A more likely issue is that the governor may have sold their valley to the Chinese company in order to raise money for his re-election campaign.

 The Kalumpang valley

GKSB has been the main channel through which the people of Kalumpang have voiced their opposition to the dams.  Church leadership lobbied the provincial government, and when it seemed no one would listen, they led a large group that  occupied the lawn of the governor’s office for three days last year.  They have asked for help from the Indonesian Communion of Churches and from CGMB, their only overseas partner.

Please pray for GKSB and the people of Kalumpang, and for the beautiful valley they are struggling to protect.