The central and localgovernments are to blame for the continuing forest fires in Kalimantan andSumatra as they ignored early warnings, a team of experts said on Friday.
The team, set up under theauspices of the Ministry of Research and Technology, also called on thegovernment to declare the fires and national disaster and to start evacuatingpeople living near the burn offs to prevent further deaths.
It also warned thegovernment against playing down the team’s prediction of the forest firescontinuing for the remainder of the year.
Team member Bambang HeroSaharjo told a media conference the experts warned the government twice thisyear but it had done nothing.
“First, we informedthe government in January that forest fires would return, but at that time theywere busy with serious floods in Jakarta,” said Bambang, a senior lecturerat the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.
“Then, in April werenewed our warning. They were supposed to immediately take preventive measures,but it turned out that no institution followed up on our notification.”
The team was set up tomitigate the effects of climate disasters under the auspices of the Ministry ofResearch and Technology.
Bambang said thegovernment did not move to prevent the fires on the grounds it had not foundsignals that a drought would be caused by a weak El Niño.
On the contrary, the teamhad expected a weak El Niño to occur this year, he said.
El Niño is an abnormalwater warming phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. It changes patterns of wind andrain, which sparks severe droughts in Indonesia and neighboring countries butcauses heavy rain in western parts of South America.
The El Niño in 1997-1998partly triggered vast forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, causing a thickhaze to spread throughout Southeast Asia.
He said this year’s fireshould be declared a disaster due to its impact. “There have been deathsand 7,000 others are suffering from upper respiratory tract infections,” hesaid.
“People in West andCentral Kalimantan, in particular, have been hit hardest by the forest andground fires. The government needs to evacuate people surrounding the fire andprovide them with food assistance,” he said.
Bambang suggested that theMinistry of Forestry assume the position of rescuing the people.
“It is obvious thatthe government, in this case the Ministry of Forestry, capability of theregencies and provinces,” he said.
He regretted the fact thatefforts to tackle the blazes were minimal and even the forestry agencies inKalimantan and Sumatra were reluctant to investigate the sources of the fires.
Meanwhile, Erna SriAdiningsih, who chairs the team, said the government should be alert for thepossibility the fires would burn for the remainder of the year.
“People in WestKalimantan, Central Kalimantan, Lampung, and Riau must be cautious of forestfires until the end of this year.
“The possibility is60 percent that those areas will be still dry by the end of the year,” shesaid.
Instead of takingimmediate action to deal with the fires, the government has blamed local peopleand migrants for the disaster.
Forest concessioncompanies are relatively free of accusations of careless forest managementalthough hot spots have also been found in their areas. Kalimantan is prone toforest fires due to its abundant peat lands.
By Moch. N. Kurniawan, TheJakarta Post, Jakarta Source: The Jakarta Post