​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Drive South Tapanuli Towards Sustainable Development

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Editor's Note: President Joko Widodo is committed to  achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set by the United Nations in September 2015. All parties, including local governments, should work together to pursue and achieve the SDGs.

The Government of South Tapanuli District, North Sumatra Province, is in the midst of working towards sustainable development. One of the important approaches taken by this region is adopting pro-environmental planning. To learn more about this approach, I sat in an interview with Ir. Saulian Sabbih, Assistant II for South Tapanuli District Development.

Saulian was born as the second of six children. His father was a class I civil servant. After graduating from Andalas University, West Sumatra, Saulian immediately returned to South Tapanuli to help improve the welfare of his hometown. Having spent 10 years chairing the South Tapanuli Regional Development Planning Agency, he is now entrusted by the South Tapanuli District Head with a position as the district's coordinator of sustainable development planning. 

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​​Question (Q): Can you tell me about the potential natural resources in South Tapanuli and the problems you've encountered?

Answer (A): South Tapanuli District has been blessed with a fertile land where crops like corn, yam, rubber, and cacao can easily grow. Also, the coast of Muara Opu houses several rare sea turtle species. Due to these abundant natural resources, we scored Rp 1.2 trillion in Locally Generated Revenue and Rp 8 trillion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), including Rp 1.5 trillion from the mining sector. The refinery industry had the most significant growth of 36%, followed by agriculture 32%, and trade and hospitality industry 15%. Economy-wise, they put South Tapanuli among the fastest-growing districts in North Sumatra Province.

But, the development in South Tapanuli has also caused damage to nature. Damaged environment diminishes the nature's ability to provide for humans, animals, and plants. It can also lead to poor quality life for generations to come.

Q: Why is it so important to apply sustainable development principles in South Tapanuli?

A: Development is a continuous transformative process towards betterment of every aspect of people's life, so that we can reach the our living standard. In other words, the goal of development is to improve people's welfare.

The concept of sustainable development maintains principles that ensure alignment between development and environmental conservation. Eight principles are to be considered when implementing sustainable development: fairness and equality, integrative approach, long-term perspective, ecological sustainability, economic sustainability, sociocultural sustainability, political sustainability, and defense and security sustainability.

This concept is also in line with the traditional belief of South Tapanuli people, "Markoum Marsilsolkot (Dalihan Na Tolu)", as well as religious teachings that urge humans to protect nature from damage for its continuity and to enrich nature as a mandate given by God.

For those reasons, sustainable development is a must to ensure economic, social, and environmental benefits for South Tapanuli. In addition, it is a solution to this region's environmental damage problems. 

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Q: Why is environment such an important factor in sustainable development, and how should development planning take it into consideration?

A: In South Tapanuli, sustainable development aims to eradicate poverty and prevent damage to natural resources and environment. The concept of sustainable development considers natural resources a part of the ecosystem. By preserving and maintaining ecosystem functions, natural resources can thus be conserved.

I saw people in Australia build houses to live in inside the National Parks and receive direct benefits from the parks' existence. In the future, I'm visioning a similar thing for South Tapanuli, where people can build houses in protection forests and receive direct benefits from the forests.

With sustainable development, quality is more important than quantity. The focus is more on improving every aspect of human life both today and tomorrow. That's why we need a good and solid participatory planning that involves all development stakeholders in South Tapanuli.

Q: Can you give an example of such plan implemented in South Tapanuli?

A: Conservation International has helped us preparing a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). We then use the result to inform better South Tapanuli's Spatial Plan (RTRW). As a public policy, RTRW can influence the sustainable development process through fit-for-purpose environmental regulation. At the moment, my team and I are in the homestretch of drafting it.

Q: Any advice for other local governments planning for sustainable development?

A: We've witnessed time and time again blunders and failures in the development of our beloved country. However, I feel that we've taken the right step by integrating the sustainable development principles I mentioned earlier into the local development planning. So, I must say the first step has to be the other local governments' commitment to applying sustainable principles. Don't leave a disaster to our future generations.

 

Popo Dedy Iskandar is a Senior Coordinator for Spatial Policy of CI Indonesia in North Sumatra.​ (December 23​, 2016)