NEWS

Indonesian president orders permanent solution to forest fires

Reuters

6 Feb 2020, 9:02 am

Updated 2 months ago

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Thursday ordered government officials to find a permanent solution to prevent devastating annual forest fires that he understood had been almost entirely started by humans but made worse by climate change.

Indonesia last year suffered the worst forest blazes in four years when 1.6 million hectares of its forests and peatlands were burned. The World Bank estimated total damage and economic losses from the fires amounted to US$5.2 billion (RM21 billion).

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from smoke caused by the fires, which raised health and environmental concerns and at times diplomatic tensions between neighbours.

"Find a solution, a more permanent one against economic-motivated forest fires because according to reports I have received, 99 percent of forest fires were started by humans," Widodo (above) told a meeting with cabinet ministers and heads of agencies in charge of extinguishing fires.

Indonesian farmers often use fire to clear land during the dry season, but they can rage out of control and produce a choking haze. Palm oil cultivation is often blamed for land clearance in places like Sumatra and Borneo islands.

The Indonesian fires have been blamed for increasing greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation that can endanger wildlife such as orangutans.

Anyone caught using fires to illegally clear land for plantations can face up to 15 years in jail and fines, but green groups claim the laws have been poorly enforced.

Widodo also noted Australia's bushfires which had burnt 11 million hectares of forests and lands and are estimated to have killed up to 1 billion native animals.

"Climate change, rising temperatures, we all have felt them. Don't let (fires) become big during the very hot weather or they will become hard to control," the president said.

Widodo also ordered more frequent patrols on the ground by security personnel across the country, especially in fire-prone areas such as Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, and South Sumatra provinces.

Last year's blazes were exacerbated by a mild El Nino weather pattern, which prolonged the dry season. Indonesia's weather agency says it does not expect a repeat of El Nino this year.

- Reuters 

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