Fires to Clear Forests Still in Vogue in Indonesia
Fidelis E. Satriastanti
Residents and plantation companies continue to open plantation areas by burning forests because it is the easiest and cheapest method, the nation’s disaster-prevention agency says.
“The people and businesses burn [forests] because it is much cheaper,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), told BeritaSatu on Saturday.
“Besides, they normally burn peatland where the acid level of the land is unsuitable for plantation. [The area] will become fertile if it’s burned and the ashes can be used as fertilizer.”
Sutopo said that explained why people were still burning forests to open land despite many regulations to ban the practice.
The Environment Ministry is investigating eight companies in Sumatra — two in Riau, four in South Sumatra and two in Aceh — that allegedly burned a total of 3,814 hectares of forest land to open new plantation areas.
The government has also put eight provinces on its forest fire control priority list: North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.
Environmental law analyst Mas Achmad Santosa said that the lack of investigators to handle environmental cases slowed the Environment Ministry from enforcing the law. “The law offers a wide scope for law enforcement on environmental crimes,” Santosa said on Sunday.
The Law on Environmental Protection and Management enables civil servants tasked with investigating environmental cases to immediately start or halt an investigation without reporting it to the police. They are also authorized to arrest suspects through coordination with the police.
But many environmental crimes investigators no longer work in law enforcement. The ministry “just needs to call the civil servants who have shifted to other fields but still working in the ministry,” he said.
Previously, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry had 1600 environmental crimes investigations to be distributed. Ministry data showed that 554 cases as of November 2010 but only 398 were active.
On Saturday morning, BNPB put out fires in an oil palm plantation area in Muarojambi district, Jambi.
“The fire on a 700-hectare plot of land in Muarojambi was contained this morning. It was an oil palm plantation area,” Sutopo said, adding that the fire-fighting effort involved artificial rain, water bombs and land-based attacks.
The agency is creating artificial rains in Riau and Central Kalimantan for 40 days because the dry season has just started.
“In Riau, the artificial rain will be created using two Cassa 212 aircraft and two helicopters for water bombs,” Sutopo said, adding that artificial rains would also be generated over Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.
“Artificial rains were created on Aug. 12, and we will do it again on Aug. 28 in both provinces. The process will be carried out for 40 consecutive days,” he said.
Water bombing is one method of containing forest fires, however, it has limited coverage and cannot be done over wide areas. “With artificial rains, it depends on the clouds. There are not enough clouds in mountainous areas during the dry season. … It’s possible to be carried out on peatlands by soaking them with water so that it doesn’t burn easily, but given the condition of rivers in Indonesia, this also poses a problem,” Sutopo said.
BNPB has allocated Rp 12 billion ($1.26 million) to contain forest fires but will increase it to Rp 30 billion if conditions worsen. BNPB has also prepared three additional helicopters and two aircraft to create artificial rains.