Major Forest Fires Looms Again

Monday, 22 August 2016 , 09:00:00 WIB - Social

A forest fire in Pontianak, Kalimantan Barat, Saturday (20/8) (ANTARA)

JAKARTA, GRES.NEWS – Major forest and land fires in Kalimantan and Sumatera are threatening again. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has reported that the number of hotspots in Kalimantan Barat has increased significantly. NASA has detected 158 hotspots in the province, from just 106 earlier detected.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG)-Pekanbaru on Thursday (18/8) spotted 82 hotspots in Sumatera, of which 43 are located in Riau. As a result, the air in Riau has been worsening lately with thin smog appearing in Dumai to cut sight range to 5 kilometers (km), from 10 km.

The government is making anticipatory measures. Kalimantan Barat Governor, Cornelius, for instance, has announced an emergency situation. He has sent a request letter to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency to deploy helicopters to conduct water bombings, make artificial rain and deploy patrol helicopters.

The agency’s Head of Information and Public Relations, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said two helicopters have been prepared to perform water bombings and that a permit to fly has been requested to the Ministry of Transportation. Meanwhile, The Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) has prepared Casa planes belonging to the Indonesian Air Force (TNI AU) and the necessary ingredients to make artificial rain. The project will be ready to kick-start next week.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Executive Director Riko Kurniawan said poor forest and land management in the regions is contributing to the recurring fires. The government must develop a clear program to deal with the forest fires. They shouldn’t only focus on putting out the fire. There must be extraordinary measures, he said to gres.news, Sunday (21/8).

Riko says plantation companies have been taking advantage of the forest fire period to burn their plantation to clear their land. We are still seeing irresponsible plantation companies clearing land by burning their plantation, taking advantage of the period of numerous hotspots, he said.

The lack of monitoring by law enforcers are also behind the never ending forest fires. Regional administrators and law enforcers shouldn’t only monitor land when the fires are occurring. They should also be monitoring when there’s no smog, he said.

Riko said funds aimed at mitigating forest and land fires have been vulnerable to embezzlements, looking at the massive amounts. Based on information we received, the central government disbursed Rp385 billion. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency asked for an additional Rp700 billion from the Ministry of Finance, he said.

Therefore, he urges the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to monitor the fund’s spending.

He also regrets the decision from the Riau Police to end their investigation on plantation companies who allegedly violated regulations by setting fire on peat land and forest to clear land.

LINKED TO REGIONAL ELECTIONS – Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher, who is also a lecturer of Forestry Management at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), Herry Purnomo, has found a connection between regional elections period and the forest fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

Based on data collected by CIFOR, the number of hotspots was still below 5,000 in 2000-2002. The number began increasing to 10,000 in 2003 and reached almost 20,000 in 2004. The regional elections took place in 2005.

In 2005, the number of hotspots dropped to 15,000, before climbing to 30,000 in 2006.

Near the conclusion of the regional elections in 2007-2008, the number began to decline to reach 20,000 in 2009 and 10,000 in 2010. The number remained stable at 10,000 in 2011-2013 and started climbing again in 2014-2015 as the nation entered the regional elections period once more in 2014-2015. The number of hotspots in 2014 reached almost 25,000 and reached nearly 30,000 in 2015.

Herry explained that ‘land politics’ is happening in Indonesia, in which candidates trade peat land to win votes. Candidates would promise land to people who are willing to sponsor them in the elections if they win.

According to him, there are many unclaimed lands in Sumatera and Kalimantan that are being sold by local brokers. The land would be offered to legislative members, government executives and even high-ranking law enforcers.

"Illegal land is usually managed non-procedurally. It is hard to find illegal land managed procedurally, he said.

WEAK MONITORING – The Highest Indigenous People of the Republic of Indonesia (LEMTARI) Chairman Suhali Datuk said the monitoring by the provincial administration has been weak.

"Most of the fire departments are provincial fire fighters. Why is the provincial government not involving villages and districts, he said to gres.news.

He suggests an anti-forest and land fire comprising 25 personnel in every village. (dtc)

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