The prayer of Wadas

Dahlan Iskan
Dahlan Iskan, Former Minister of State-Owned Enterprises (SOE)

IO – Readers have demanded that I write more about the stormy case of Wadas village, yes, the one in Purworejo. Why and when has Wadas become tumultuous? Is it that serious? Forcing the PBNU Chair (largest Islamic organization in Indonesia) to release a statement? One of Gus Dur’s daughters was also involved in the row? 

I had to contact loads of parties. To collect and balance the information. But still, it would not be complete without going there myself. 

I frequently visit the mountains around Purworejo, and also its neighbor: Wonosobo. Farmers breed Etawa goats, whose ears limply yet beautifully hang 30 centimeters downwards. The Etawa breeders make a living out of their milk: producing 3 liters a day, if properly fed. 

But Wadas Village still heads west from the Etawa base. And a little higher, up to the mountainous area. It is where the famous mountains of Bukit Menoreh stretched. 

There will be a new dam, a reservoir: Bendungan Bener. At 500 meters above sea level. If you drive from Purworejo to Wonosobo, the dam will be on the left side of the road. Roughly 4 kilometers after taking a left turn from the intercity road. A small street heading south. 

The dam stretches across several villages in two regencies: two villages in Purworejo and three in Wonosobo. The state must complete land acquisition. Period. No question about it. Residents impacted by the project have fed to other villages. No more than 1000 families. 

The highest quid pro quo was, in fact, made to replace the Sengon trees. The area is filled with Sengon trees. Sengon trees were the local people’s investment, more profitable than planting cassava or ginger. 

So dam construction began. Under President Jokowi’s governance, we must admit that the government is very keen on building dams. Big and small. Everywhere. As eager as building highways. 

The Bener Dam will hold and meter the fow of runoff water toward the south. Irrigating the paddy fields in South Purworejo: 15,000 hectares wide, often turning dry and barren during droughts of the dry season. Not to mention a more major issue: the intrusive southern saltwater creeping northward during the kemarau. Outfow from the dam will compensate for the drought with precious water for paddy fields in the Kulonprogo area, not far from the new airport of Jogjakarta. And the mild pressure of the fresh water flow should keep saltwater intrusion at bay. 

All was well up to this point. All went smoothly. 

Therefore the dam work must begin. A contractor has been appointed. One of the SOEs, expert in water management: PT. Brantas Adipraya. Again, no problem. 

But, to begin construction, the project requires a huge volume of rock. The dam is massive, with a length of 543 meters, a little more than half a kilometer. The height is 159 meters. The highest in Indonesia. Jatiluhur Reservoir, as the existing biggest dam, is only 100 meters high, or 96 meters, to be precise. 

For a dam that big and deep, to safely back up the weight of water, the dam body needs to be sturdy and solid. The foundation part of the dam is 290 meters; imagine the rocks required. 

Up to here, still no problem: rocks are available. The project is constructed on the slope of rocky mountains. One of the sources for obtaining the rocks comes from a village down below. A little to the east from the project location. That is where Wadas Village is located. 

Undoubtedly the rocky hill on the upper side of the village turned to gold—its charm devoured by greedy eyes. Permits to mine the rocks were issued, and as always, only the “haves” could receive the precious permits. Obviously, none of the villagers living there were able to obtain any permits. Perhaps, they did not want to: they highly respect the rocky mountain. They look after it, protect it. 

There is a small forest up in the hill of the rocky mountain, a forest to guard in reverence. They believe: the forest, the hill, the rocks, the nature is the source of the spring water of the village—the spring of life. 

The conflict here began between the residents and the permit holder. A battle between the power of prayers and money supremacy. Even praying involves money. 

The rest: You know how it turns out.