Hazy Solutions in Struggle to Stop People Burning Indonesia’s Forests
Fidelis E. Satriastanti
A lack of law enforcement is the main factor in Indonesia’s failure to stop slash-and-burn clearing of forests, which causes haze, analysts said on Sunday.
“If you’re talking about forest fires in this country, then the main issue is law enforcement,” said Sudarsono, a forestry expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).
“People and companies continue to burn forests because it’s a cheap [method of clearing]. Meanwhile, we don’t hear anything about regulations being enforced,” he said. “So as long as they’re never enforced, people will keep on burning the forests.”
On Saturday night, thick smog blanketed the city of Dumai in Riau province again, according to Antara news agency.
“This often happens [in Dumai],” Ruli, a fish seller, was quoted as saying. “In July alone, we’ve had six days when the city was covered in thick smog.”
Sanya Gautami, an analyst at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Riau, said satellite imagery from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had detected at least five hot spots in Sumatra.
Since the 1990s, Indonesia has been criticized internationally for the large amount of smoke it generates in the forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The resulting haze sometimes spreads to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and is estimated to cause $9 billion in losses to tourism, transportation and agriculture across the region each year.
An agreement among Southeast Asian nations was drawn up in 2002 to tackle haze, and Indonesia is the only nation that has not yet ratified it.
Sudarsono said more measures such as heavy fines were urgently needed to discourage slash-and-burn clearing, which is responsible for much of the haze.
“Alternatively, we could set up an incentive program for people to change their land management practices,” he said. This, he added, could involve providing more subsidized fertilizer to help farmers boost productivity without clearing more land.
“There are regulations banning open burning, but people won’t automatically follow the rules without any law enforcement,” he said.
He cited forest fires believed to have been set to make room for palm oil plantations in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, where no actions were ever taken against the companies by the authorities.
“You can see from the satellite images where these hot spots are,” Sudarsono said. “It’s all good to have data for hot spots, but the real question is what happens next?”
He also criticized current measures for handling forest fires as ineffective, noting that the government paid year-round salaries for firefighters who only worked in the dry season.
“If they already know that fires are expected to occur during this period, they should just focus on those months and hire as many people as they can rather than allocate a fixed budget to pay people who work for only two months each year,” he said.
Dedi Hariri, forest fire coordinator at WWF Indonesia, blamed the lack of coordination between the different authorities. He said forest fires were handled by three separate entities: the Forestry Ministry, the Environment Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry.
“There are plenty of coordination meetings on this issue, but we don’t really how they translate in the field,” he said.