The European Union (EU) announced on Wednesday new funding worth ¤6.5 million (US$7.35 million) for Indonesia’s Climate Change Response project, promising to support Aceh deal with environmental issues and sustainable economic development.
“The EU has a long-established relationship with Aceh, from financial assistance for the post-tsunami reconstruction and support for the peace-building process to forest protection and conservation,” EU Ambassador Vincent Guérend said at a meeting with Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah.
Guérend, who is also head of the delegation of the European Commission to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam met the governor during his two-day visit to get firsthand information about development, the good governance program and environmental protection in the country’s western-most province.
Aceh received significant funding in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of homes and other buildings.
Aceh was also affected by a prolonged conflict between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government. Development in the province improved after GAM and the government signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005 in Helsinki and agreed to end the conflict.
Besides the financial assistance for climate change mitigation, Guérend said the EU would help Aceh develop its education sector by providing scholarships. He said that one sixth of the 120 Indonesia students studying on scholarships in the EU were from Aceh.
In his welcoming speech, governor Zaini Abdullah said he hoped the province’s cooperation with the EU could be expanded in all sectors, including renewable energy, fisheries and agriculture.
“Aceh has a wealth of natural resources, from agricultural products, geothermal energy, oil and other resources. These resources represent a big potential [and exploiting them] could involve cooperation with the EU,” Zaini said.
He said Aceh was also known as a region with a surplus of products such as chocolate, coffee and palm oil, commodities which could improve local people’s welfare.
“Two of the regions in Aceh that have potential in palm oil are South Aceh and Aceh Singkil. In the regions, we are developing several palm oil factories to improve people’s livelihoods through agricultural commodities,” he said.
However, economic growth in the region has also created problems, such as deforestation to open up new oil palm plantations.
Responding to such issues, Guérend guaranteed that the EU funded environmental protection program would be in line with the government’s economic development program.
He said the EU was very interested in environmental protection in Aceh as many of its forests were still large, intact and had functioning ecosystems. These forests, he added, could become a standard in climate mitigation and land and forest management for Indonesia and the world.
Aceh Forestry Agency head Husaini Syamaun said that 23 percent of Sumatra’s 13 million hectares of forests were located in Aceh, adding that the forests there also had the most biodiversity.
“For that reason, we ask the EU to become more deeply involved in forest protection programs in Aceh,” Husaini said.
Husaini said he hoped the EU could help the Aceh administration provide facilities, infrastructure and capacity-building [training] for stakeholders involved in forest protection programs.