Watch this touching video from Al-Jazeera: Death of the Forests

A visual and sounds essay from Al-Jazeera on deforestation in Indonesia and the last moments of Green, an orangutan deprived of its habitat. A must-watch!

Global Recession and Debt Crisis: Breathing Time for the Environment

While governments are scrambling to put their finances in order, the public is left wondering – what’s going on? The debt crises in some parts of Europe and in the US are taking over the budgets of the governments in these countries. Spending cuts have become the order of the year. The other question that matters most is – how deep should these cuts be?

Defaulting to financial obligations is no option. Governments must find ways to cut the budget deficits into manageable level. The current level is unsustainable. Severe cuts must be made, in lieu of traditional sources of revenues – taxes and privatization of public utilities and government’s stakes. Laying off is a welcome reprieve for the governments, and so the overhauling of pension system. 

There is outrage from the public of what’s going on. The public has expressed this on the streets. From Greece to Spain, the public reacted strongly against the proposed and recently implemented austerity measures. Another round of austerity measures is on the horizon to cut even deeper than what was once thought.

The spending cuts may look all negative in economic terms. However, it is also a welcome relief for the ailing environment. Imagine the reduction in the emissions because of the moderated operations of the manufacturing industries. 

I think these debt crises are bringing us back to the basic. We have exploded in our own desires to grow bigger and more. And now, we are trying to ease the impact of that explosion by grinding down our excesses. Thus, it provides the necessary breathing time for our suffocated environment.

We are close to realizing that we do not need to be bigger or to have more. What is essential has been here all along – our families, community, environment. Material things come and go, but some things stay, whether in recession or not, with or without debt crises. 

I believe in the resilience of humanity. We will overcome, and so too our environment, with a little help from the debt crises.

Indigenous Rights and Claims on Waters

We have done it with lands. Through international and national laws, we have recognized the ownership rights of the Indigenous Peoples over lands that they have traditionally occupied and used. Then, why not with waters?

There are pressing issues and disputed claims over waters on which the states take precedence over Indigenous Peoples. There are two international documents that deal with these issues, the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Just a historical background. After 22 years of deliberation and debate, the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was finally adopted by the General assembly in 2007. The Declaration presents substantial rights and claims of the Indigenous Peoples who, at times, have been marginalized and excluded  from the the schemes of society.

Article 26 of the Declaration states that "1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired; 2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired; 3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned."

Although it is not explicitly stated, "territories" would encompass waters that are traditionally used for subsistence. It is resoundingly clear in the Declaration that the Indigenous Peoples have rights and claims on waters as much as on lands and resources.

Even neighboring countries that share water territories have been unable to agree on how to manage and oversee the use, development, and conservation of the disputed territories. Examples of these cases are the Spratlys group of islands claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia, and Senkaku/Diaoyutai Island claimed by Japan and China.

How much more if the dispute is between indigenous peoples and a state?

This is the case of the Rotenese of southeastern Indonesia when they contend with Australia their fishing rights on and historical connection with Ashmore Reef and Cartier Islands. To highlight this issue, an International Conference on Indigenous Claims on Waters: What Do the Indigenous Convention and International Law Documents Say about this? will be held in The Hague, Netherlands on 18 March 2011. There will also be case presentations of other similar issues in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

If you or your organization is interested to sponsor this event, please contact Yetty Haning at

For registration, kindly email