Indonesia: Integrated Forest Fire Management Project – IFFM (IFFN No. 23)

Fire in Indonesia and the Integrated Forest Fire Management Project – IFFM

(IFFN No. 23 – December 2000, p. 12-16)

Fire in Southeast Asia’s Forests

Fire is a naturally re-occurring phenomenon which significantly affects many of the world’s ecosystems, including forests. However, the role which fire plays here, its causes, and the time between one outbreak and the next are quite varied.

In Asia, for example, there are fundamental differences between the fire-related problems in India, China, Korea, Mongolia and Siberia on the one hand, and South-East Asia on the other. Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea are experiencing ever greater problems with uncontrolled forest fire outbreaks. Until a few decades ago, fire was a very rare occurrence in the perhumid tropical rain-forests. With the exception of Thailand, the countries of South-East Asia therefore had no reason to develop either preventative measures or fire-fighting strategies to cope with uncontrolled fires. However, increasing access, use, settlement and transformation of forests have led to fire causing more and more damage in conservation and in sustainable use, and also to the region’s natural resources. Human activity and regular dry periods, together with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), are now forming a “hot mix” which has led to devastating forest fires, particularly in Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra. Moreover, long-term climate prognoses assume that El Niño-related phenomena will become both more frequent and more severe. A feedback effect is also to be expected, caused by reduced evapotranspiration in the shrinking natural forests, since a significant proportion of the precipitation in tropical rain forests is generated in situ. This is having an increasing affect on the Asian mainland. The problem is anthropogenic, and the current worst case scenario is the “savannization” of the whole of Southeast Asia.

Key connected factors causing fires in land and forest use:

  • The opening up and exploitation of forests to serve the wood industry is an important factor in that potentially, the canopy can be opened up temporarily. This considerably reduces in the forest’s ability to withstand dry periods. In addition, the remains of trees after felling and secondary vegetation allow combustible biomass to accumulate on the forest floor. Studies conducted following the great fires of 1982/83 in East Kalimantan have shown that the areas most severely affected by fire are those where wood was cleared in the immediately preceding years. Primary forests and those less recently exploited were significantly less affected or classified as only “slightly damaged”. Forests that have already burnt once are considerably more likely to be affected again and to eventually degrade into reed-covered savannahs. In Kalimantan / Indonesia, where intensive new access and wood harvesting began in the 1970s in previously undisturbed rain forests, the savannahs now cover an area of several million hectares.

  • The arrival of the wood industry is followed by new settlers who use fire to clear the land for cultivation; however, these settlers often lack a traditional relationship with the forests and thus have no interest in preserving it. The form of land law practised in Indonesia to date provides the population with no incentive to preserve the forests or to protect them from fire. However, it will not be possible to control the fire problem unless the population is intensively involved and cooperates.

  • Apart from this exploitation of the forests, another important factor is the large-scale transformation from natural forest to woods for industry and oil palm plantations. This is highly profitable and was until recently even subsidised by the state. The instrument of choice for doing this, although officially forbidden, is fire. Indonesia’s current forest transformation programme is unrealistic without clearing by fire. This leads to conflicts with the local population over land use, which in turn are fought out with fire. Both large and small-scale land speculation and the use of fire for other purposes in the forest (e.g. illegal felling and hunting), together with carelessness and a lack of awareness of the problems complete the complex picture of a network of causes in each case.

The political situation in Indonesia has only recently made it possible to expose the underlying causes of forest fires and smoke affecting neighbouring countries which are of a deeper structural, institutional or regulative-policy nature. The experience of the last few years and numerous national and international fire management activities have already led to a basic understanding of the problem of catastrophic forest fires in this region and how to tackle it.

It has not yet been possible to turn this basic understanding into a consistent land use policy based on the principle of sustainability. Neither has it led to political changes which would promote forest conservation or involvement of the population in planning the use, conservation and control of the forests. Yet all of these are key elements in the development of an integrated long-term approach to fire management. A corresponding regional strategy incorporating the regional character of the problems and the particular difficulties facing each country – Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, etc. also has yet to be developed.

Against this background Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) project, an Indonesian-German joint venture supported by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), intends to set up a fire management program in East Kalimantan which not only deals with the symptom fire, but also tries to address the deep-rooted problems that cause fire to occur.

IFFM Project Description


The total lifetime of the IFFM project is nine years (1994-2003). During Phase I (1994-1997) of IFFM, an appropriate level of fire protection, training needs, suitable equipment, necessary fire intelligence, institutional and structural support were all evaluated and determined in a pilot area. Cooperation with relevant government agencies and timber concessionaires has been ongoing. At the village level, socio-economic studies have been carried out to elaborate a concept of community-based fire management and to organise volunteer fire response crews. Fire prevention material has been produced to raise public awareness.

Since the second phase, the scheme determined in the Bukit Soeharto pilot area has been replicated in other areas of East Kalimantan / Indonesia. Local fire centres at all the ten Cabang Dinas Kehutanan (District Forest Offices) as well as the Kutai and Kayan Mentarang National Parks are being established and equipped, and personnel at all levels trained to prevent and respond to wildfires. These local fire centres will form the core of a fire management system for the province. The Provincial Fire Center in Samarinda, located at DINAS Kehutanan, will coordinate fire management activities in East Kalimantan. It will collect information from the local offices, provide fire intelligence (fire hot spot locations, fire danger rating, radio communications) and coordinate the sharing of equipment and fire-fighting personnel between fire stations.

Equipment and Fire Operations

The fire equipment provided to the provincial fire center and the 12 local fire centers through a grant of Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW – the German Development Bank) includes roughly 5000 hand-tools (Pulaskis, fire shovels, rakes, swatters), 2000 back-pack pumps, 52 portable high-performance power pumps with 1300 lengths of hose, 50 jeeps (24 equipped with slip-on pumper units, 26 crew carriers), 26 trail bikes, 4 tank trucks, safety gear for about 2000 fire fighters, maintenance tools as well as computers, overhead projectors and other office items. The task of the GTZ advisor team is to support the counterpart agencies to set up the 12 local fire centers and train the personnel in managing fires as well as the provided fire fighting equipment. As most of the forest area is managed by concessionaires, one important activity is to strengthen their cooperation with the local fire centers as well as their own capacities to prevent and suppress fires.

Fire Prevention and Community Based Fire Management

Approximately 2000 hand-tools and 1000 back-pack pumps have been allocated to equip village fire response crews during the course of the project implementation. But of course this part of the job is not done simply by providing equipment to villagers. Deep-rooted problems like land use conflicts, land speculation and lack of interest or awareness to protect the forests are behind much of Indonesia’s fire problem. Here the way must be set to overcome these problems. The fire prevention and community based fire management programme is planned to extend to all areas, focussing on the most fire prone parts of East Kalimantan. It includes village awareness campaigns, fire prevention and suppression training, school campaigns, leaflets, Si Pongi comic books, stickers, posters, hats, shirts and other items that are used to spread the prevention message. For about a year, the famous Indonesian TV Star Kak Seto has cooperated with IFFM to help raise the awareness of children and adults alike about forests and forest fires.

Fire Information System

The fire management system introduced by IFFM for the province of East Kalimantan further includes a GIS based Fire Information System (FIS) in the Provincial Fire Center in Samarinda. An Early Warning System based on El Niño predictions, a simple Fire Danger Index and real-time satellite monitoring by NOAA AVHRR imagery are substantial parts of the system. In the meantime ERS radar satellite data (vegetation cover maps, burnt scar maps) have become part of this system together with digitized base maps and GIS layers showing infrastructure, fire hazard, transmigration sites, timber concession and estate crop boundaries. It has now become possible to directly assign “hot spots” to the responsible land-users all over the province. The Fire Information System is expected to provide all the necessary and appropriate information flow between the field-, district-, provincial- and national levels for a more effective fire management in the future.

Further contributions of IFFM include:

  • M.Sc. / PhD scholarships in Fire Management for University lecturers and Forestry Officials at Universities in Australia and the USA
  • Training of fire fighters (training of trainers) in USA and Australia
  • Study tours for policy makers to USA
  • Production of training guidelines and fire management guidelines for concession and plantation companies prepared and soon to be published in cooperation with the Forest Fire Prevention and Control (FFPC) project in Sumatera (sponsored by the European Union).
  • Support timber concessionaires in the field of fire management in general and more intense cooperation with one partner concession in East Kalimantan in conjunction with the GTZ Sustainable Forestry Management Project (SFMP).
  • Production of fire prevention TV spots in cooperation with EU

Fire Policy

Exposing and discussing the underlying causes and important problems concerning forest and land fires in Indonesia with the concerned agencies has been a substantial activity of the project. Fire is only the symptom of poor and unsustainable land use practices. Another challenge is the confusing number of government institutions that claim responsibility for fire management. The most pressing issues to be addressed by policy makers are:

  1. stop conversion of natural forests into plantations
  2. stop illegal logging, which is frequently backed by all too well-known people
  3. start solving land tenure problems
  4. set the course for a forestry policy that creates an interest of the local population to protect the forests and raise the awareness of the public and the media
  5. Assign clear and feasible responsibilities in fire management
  6. enforce the law which will only become possible by raising the salaries of public servants
  7. improve the poor performance in most of the timber concessions in sustainable forest management and adjust (reduce) the annual allowable cut in forests, particularly to adapt forestry planning after the fires
  8. develop a binding fire management concept for concession and plantation companies

The Fires in East Kalimantan 1998/99

All the activities to contain the 1997/98 fires were rather pointless, simply because someone wanted these fires to burn. Large and small scale, legal and illegal forest conversion, land use conflicts, illegal logging, hunting with fire and land speculation were the main causes of these fires. The poorly managed and heavily logged forests had become very prone to fire. In East Kalimantan, unlike the other provinces, the drought was four months longer and continued until early May 1998. There the fires became real wildfires and consumed virtually everything from virgin forests to plantations. Again, like during the 1982/83 El Niño event, East Kalimantan was the area worst hit.

A comprehensive evaluation of the 1997/98 fires was made by IFFM combining NOAA and ERS radar satellite data. This new technology proved extremely useful and precise, as radar penetrates clouds and smoke. The results include the total area burnt in East Kalimantan with different damage classes and the type of forest or vegetation burnt. The burnt area and damage classes have also been calculated for every single concession company. One quarter of the province (5.2 million hectares) was torched by the flames. Of this close to 3 million hectares were forests. The results differ considerably from the officially released figure (550,000 hectares of burnt forest). Data and maps of this investigation have been handed over both to the Provincial Government and the Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops.

The Governor of East Kalimantan in accordance with the then Minister of Forestry wanted to stop both GTZ supported projects (IFFM and SFMP) to further spread those data. Meanwhile hopes that after the fall of the Soeharto regime, things might turn to the better in Indonesia’s forests have not been fulfilled. The race to cash Indonesia’s remaining forest reserves has got completely out of control. Only substantially increased internal (by NGOs) and international pressure can help to slow down this process again.

Contact address

Ludwig Schindler
GTZ (GmbH)
AF 4557 – Zi. 1474
Dag-Hammarskjöld Weg 1-5
65760 Eschborn

Tel: ++49-6196-79-1474


| IFFN No. 23 | Specials | Country Notes |

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien