Saturday, June 29, 2013

Uphill task to eliminate haze - Sin Chew Jit Poh

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

PEKANBARU, June 28 (Sin Chew Daily) -- "The long-term foes of Indonesia's forest fires are discrepancies in law enforcement, politics and corruption."

Indonesia's laws to some extent offer only protection to the urban rich while impoverished residents are often excessively penalised or manipulated, making it almost impossible to eradicate the issue of haze-causing forest fires.

According to the UK-based environmental group DTE, illegal logging is very rampant in Indonesia and corruption has further aggravated the ecological disaster in the country.

Forest fire expert Dr. Bambang Hero Saharjo tells Sin Chew Daily, after acquiring large swathes of land, some of the plantation companies start cutting down the trees, citing the need for land preparation before oil palm or rubber is planted while in actual fact they are setting their eyes on the timber.

"After acquiring the land, they start chasing out the aborigines. They are indeed involved in oil palm plantation, but only on several hectares of land out of several hundred hectares. Once the trees are felled, they will hire local residents or the aborigines to burn the forests, for example in Sambas regency in West Kalimantan province."

According to him, the involved companies even claim there is no way for them to burn the palm trees still bearing fruit, trying to evade their liabilities.

He says some of the oil palm plantations even apply for Rp20 million (approximately RM6,400) per hectare in land preparation loans from the court. Although it is stipulated in the agreement that they have to adhere to the zero burning policy, most of them hire workers to raze the forests. Clearing each hectare of land this way only requires Rp2 to 3 million (RM640 to 962) and the balance could be used for reinvestment.


A 35-year-old salesman tells Sin Chew Daily it is easy for urban folks to move to the countryside, but very difficult for the country folks to move into the cities, as they will need to pay Rp3 million each, which is not fair.

"Many people want to move to the cities as there are plenty of job opportunities there. However, if they are not able to transfer their residential registrations to the cities, their children can only go to a school in the countryside. It is indeed very difficult for poor people to lead a more decent living.

"How do we expect ourselves to persuade these people to stop burning the forests? They need the money to survive!"

Many Indonesians are well aware that a lot of their provincial governors and district chiefs have been elected out of the sponsorship of large corporations because these politicians will offer them protection, allowing only the firemen to get in to extinguish the fires only after they have achieved their purpose of forest clearing.

"Should set a good example"

Bambang Hero says, "As a large country, we should set a good example for our neighbours!"

He says several years ago he said the same thing on the haze issue, and now he would further reinforce that Indonesia must be more resolved to tackle the forest fires and haze issues and not to evade its responsibilities.

"I once attended a Lower House debate and the elected reps blamed the issue on illegal logging, illegal land sale and illegal plantation companies without talking about how we could set up more stringent and equitable laws to tackle it."

He says discrepancies in law enforcement and politics must never be allowed again to ensure that the perpetrators are duly punished so as to make sure forest fires can be reduced.

A two-century-old question

Forest fires and haze have been in existence since as early as the 18th century.

Historical records show that the earliest forest fires in Indonesia could be traced as far back as 15,000BC, most of which in eastern Kalimantan whereby forest fires initiated by the aborigines started only from 18th century.

Bambang Hero says a very severe forest fire incident took place in eastern Kalimantan in 1982, destroying over 3.6 million hectares of forests. Since then, forest fires have become an annual issue during the dry season from May to November.

It is difficult to tell the local farmers not to burn the forests as they have been doing so since two centuries ago.
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