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Effects of Indonesia Forest Fire


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It is raining in a rain forest so that the trees are green all year. That is why a rain forest is very wet. It is easy to find water. High humidity makes a rain forest hard to be burnt. However, this is complete opposite of the forests in Indonesia at the moment. Along with the wetness, the sounds of the forest has disappeared too. Since the 1982-83 wildfire (which was noted as the largest forest fires in this century) in Indonesia, fire has been a recurring event of the islands. The fire has caused massive damage within its borders as well as for its neighboring countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore. Since the 1986 fires, Indonesia has been at odds with Malaysia and Singapore, as the haze from these fires covered the South East Asian region for weeks, causing health problems, disruption of shipping and aviation, and culminating in the closure of international airports. Economic losses and ecological damage continues to be enormous.

It is important to note that most of the forest fires in Indonesia are man-made. Much of these fires have been and continue to be set to expand its palm oil, wood pulp and other rubber industry. Fire is the cheapest and the only available tool for smallholders to reduce vegetation cover and to prepare and fertilize the extremely poor soils. The situation has worsened over the years due to El Nino. Except for brief spells of rain in December 1997, since June 1997 until April 1998, East Kalimantan, one of the regions in Indonesia on fire, got no rain at all. Climatologists estimate that the El Nino will continue until June 1998.

Wildfire in Indonesia are almost always caused by human. Only in very limited areas of East Kalimantan are burning goal seams (mostly ignited by 1982-83 fires) as ignition sources. A large percentage of all wildfires resulted from escaped agricultural burns which are done to clear the land. Fire is the cheapest and the only available tool for plantation companies to clear their land, to reduce vegetation cover and to prepare and fertilize the extremely poor soil. And fires undoubtedly will continue to be used for land clearing and soil enrichment by individuals and companies in foreseeable future, even now the Government already prohibited fire for land clearing.


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Dayak people, an indigenous tribe in Kalimantan, traditionally for thousands of years in tune with their natural environment, have been going shifting cultivation or sometimes called slash and burn agriculture. They have experiences and strict traditional rules of using fire to clear their agriculture land. But huge number of settlers who came from other islands and plantation companies do not apply such kind of rule in using fire for land clearing.

The extensive forest conversion policy is one of the substantial problems of forest fires. The Government of Indonesia has a plan to convert 400.000 hectares of forest a year to be agricultural plantations or timber plantations. The Government have reserved total of 20 million hectares of natural forest to be converted to plantation areas after commercial trees are cut. Sadly, the Kalimantan soil is not suitable for palm oil plantations or timber plantations. Apparently, it is only suitable for sustainable forest use. And forest conversion program cannot be implemented without fires. Furthermore, if the land use policy is not changed soon, the forest fire will be a recurring annual event. Due to the current economic situation in Indonesia, it will be impossible for the Government to change its policy toward the forest. With Indonesia is in need of foreign exchange to pay its foreign debt, it is almost definite that more forests will be converted to cash crop plantation such as palm oil plantation, rubber plantation, and timber plantation.

The fires have caused conflicts with neighboring nations. As mentioned before, the practice of setting fires to clear lands have been illegal since 1994. Most people breathing the air would like for this particular law to be enforced. There has been many studies that have been done in Indonesia regarding the fires. Johann Goldammer, Chief of the Fire Ecology Research Group at Germany's Freiburg University started the only known study of Southeast Asian fires. He suggests the Indonesia set up a land-management system that protects the forest with proper satellite and radio communications to stop fires early, while educating farmers in good, controlled burning practices. He even goes further to suggest fire quotas for each farmer.

According to the umbrella law of forestry issued in 1967, all forest in Indonesia owned by the Government, the Government has the right to convert, to change the use, and to give its right to a private company. This means that the Government did not recognize the traditional law or traditional right of indigenous people on their forests. Then the New Order Government gave forest concession to some retired generals instead of to the local residents. This gave them the right to log the forest and all the indigenous people was gotten rid of their forests. Indigenous people have been prohibited to go inside the forest. Thus this created conflicts between the indigenous people and the concession companies.

It is widely agreed that there needs to be policies made to address this issue; however, the government has yet to step up.

(http://www.american.edu)

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