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Kedung Ombo dam, Indonesia


The Kedung Ombo dam is one of five dams planned within the Jratunseluna River Basin Development. The plans started to be conceived in 1969, under the authoritarian regime of Suharto in Indonesia and with a loan from the World Bank of US$ 156 Million.

Suharto, in line with his predecessor Sukarno, executed a top-down growth-oriented development model based on intensive natural resources extraction. Soon after he took power in 1967, he declared Indonesia to become the “top dam building nation in South East Asia” and aimed to use water projects to integrate depressed areas in the country into the national economy (G Aditjondro, D Kowalewski). Despite steps taken by his regime towards the application of some environmental regulation (especially after the 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm), Suharto’s plans for Indonesia’s development was far from being sustainable. Due to the authoritarian repression, mobilizations in the country have not reached a significant level of coordination and incidence.

According to Khagram (2004) the opposition to Kedung Ombo dam is perhaps the most vivid case of protest actions, which however could not achieve its goals because of military repression. The dam, planned since 1969, was going to submerge the land and villages of more than 5,000 households (totalling 25,000 people), who got notified only 13 years later later, just before the construction of roads and other infrastructure was initiated. They started to pursue a legal strategy, assisted by local nongovernmental organizations. Protest mounted after the mid ‘80s and large groups of students joined the struggle. Government officials tried to divide the mobilizers by offering different compensation rates and trying to co-opt them.

Transnational solidarity was also expressed, since the project was also funded by the Dutch government, the European Economic Community, the Export-Import Bank of Japan, etc. The Indonesian Institute for Legal Aid (YLBHI) sent a letter to the World Bank enumerating the problems of the affected people and a large coalition formed around the recently founded International NGO Forum on Indonesia and the Indonesian Environment Forum (WAHLI), as well as foreign groups like the Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation.

Due to the pressure of these national and international EJOs as well as by the Dutch Minister for Development, the World Bank was compelled to start an examination on the project. The expert appointed prepared a report which was very critical of both WB and Indonesian authorities.

However, notwithstanding domestic and international lobbying and even a Supreme Court ruling in favor of raising the compensation rates to the plaintiffs (later cancelled under government pressure), the project went ahead and more dams have been cleared within the Jratunseluna River Basin Development scheme over the ‘90s.

It was only due to the 1997-98 crisis that the dam industry sector went under troubles in the country due to lack of fundings; in the meanwhile, spaces for transnationally pro-democracy coalitions and movements have grown.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Kedung Ombo dam, Indonesia
Location of conflict:Kedung Ombo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

According to the World Bank: "The main objectives of the Kedung Ombo Multipurpose Dam and Irrigation Project are to increase food production, stimulate employment, control damaging floods, supplement water supplies, generate additional power, and improve water management. The project includes: (a) construction of the Kedung Ombo Dam, appurtenant structures, diversion works, a hydroelectric power and associated transmission line, and three micro-hydroelectric power plants, and associated transmission lines; (b) improving existing irrigation and constructing two new irrigation systems; (c) establishing a flood control warning and water monitoring system for the dam and irrigation operations; and (d) provision of technical assistance for: (i) training in dam construction and safety inspection and in reservoir operation; (ii) design of irrigation works; (iii) surveys for updating classification of land for tax purposes to improve cost recovery; (iv) surveys for monitoring resettlement and compensation payments; and (v) studies for soil and water conservation"

Level of Investment for the conflictive project281,000,000 (WB commitment: US$ 156.00 million)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:5400 families (about 27,000 people)
Start of the conflict:1982
Relevant government actors:Dutch Government
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Economic Community
Export-Import Bank Japan from Japan
The World Bank (WB) from United States of America
US Agency for International Development (USAID)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Indonesian Institute for Legal Aid (YLBHI), Indonesian Environment Forum (WAHLI), Yogya NGO Forum (Yogyakarta), Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Religious groups
Local Catholic priest, Father Mangoen Wijaya, did efforts to help impacted communities but his activity was stopped by the government.
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The decision of the Supreme Court was cancelled by a political authority and neither proper compensation nor fair rehabilitation has been delivered to the affected people.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Environmental Management Act (Law 4/1982)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Fearnside, P.M. 1997. Transmigration in Indonesia: Lessons from its environmental and social impacts. Environmental Management 21(4): 553-570

PhD thesis: "Rhetoric and Reality in the World Bank’’s Relations with NGOs: an Indonesian Case Study", Bernadette Whitelum

thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University

Case study at p. 274

Indonesia in the Soeharto Years: Issues, Incidents and Images

Damning the Dams in Indonesia: A Test of Competing Perspectives

G Aditjondro, D Kowalewski - Asian Survey, 1994 - JSTOR

Augustinus Rumansara, "Indonesia, the struggle of the People in Kedung Ombo", in "The Struggle for Accountability", edited by Jonathan A. Fox and L. David Brown, MIT

World Bank: Kedung Ombo Multipurpose Dam and Irrigation Project

FIVAS, court cases against dams

Meta information

Contributor:Daniela Del Bene
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1180