Govt finds most fires occur in concession forest areas
Source: The Jakarta Post, September 06, 2004
A senior official at the Office of the State Minister of the Environment said on Sunday that at least two-thirds of the over 1,000 forest fires thatrecently hit Kalimantan and Sumatra sprung up in areas owned by plantation companies. Deputy Minister for Ecosystem Maintenance Sudariyono said satellite imagery showed that most fires occurred in plantations, industrial forests andother concession areas. “We suspect they burned down the forests to clear new plantation areas. Local residents appear to have contributed to the fires by clearing land(using the slash-and-burn method) for illegal farming,” he told The JakartaPost.
He said the forest fires had spread quickly to neighboring provinces at an alarming rate across Kalimantan, especially the western, central andsouthern parts of the island. In Sumatra, the worse-affected were in Jambi and Riau, and the government was unable to contain them. “We predict the forest fires and hot spots will rise to 1,500 cases by next week, because the fires have reached peat bogs. The lack of rainfall andshortage of personnel make it difficult to contain, let alone curb, the fires,” said Sudariyono.
Separately, the Riau provincial administration found that PT Mapalda Rabda, a subsidiary of PT Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper, which manages an industrialforest in the province, had burned down 3,000 hectares of its forest concession in Bukit Batu district, Bengkalis regency. Riau Deputy Governor Wan Abubakar, Riau Forest Agency Director Asral Rachman and other provincial officials spotted two large hot spots in thecompany’s concession area during an aerial inspection.
“We have reported the company to the police for burning down the forest and have submitted evidence. We will also file a civil suit against PT Mapaldademanding Rp 2 trillion in damages,” said Abubakar.
In addition, administration officials found last year that PT Mapalda had burned down 300 hectares of forest.
He said the local administration suspected that Mapalda Rabda, along with nine other plantation companies, had been burning the forest since 2003.Abubakar refused to disclose the names of the eight other companies, saying he was collecting more evidence. A similar discovery was announced by the Jambi Forest Fire Control Agency, which concluded that several plantation companies deliberately burned downforests to clear land for palm oil plantations.
Agency head Saleh Sibli said most hot spots in the province were located in areas belonging to plantation companies in Muarojambi, Tanjungjabung Baratand Tanjung Jabung Timur regencies. Meanwhile, in the East Kalimantan capital town of Samarinda, which has been blanketed by haze for the past week, local residents began to complain ofrespiratory problems.
Daeng Haji, who lives in Kutai Kartanegara, said on Sunday the haze had become more severe. Daeng said he had never complained about respiratoryproblem previously, even when his neighborhood was covered by haze almost every day.
Sudariyono said the central environment office was currently inspecting plantation companies across the country to see whether they had thefacilities to prevent and combat fires. “The government can’t fight the fires alone,” he said. According to Government Decree No. 4/2001 on fire control, forest concession holders are required to provide fire-fighting equipment andensure access to remote locations within their concession areas, as well as train personnel to combat fires. A failure to comply carries eitheradministrative sanctions or jail sentences.