Jakarta, Indonesia – WWF and other NGOs are calling on the Indonesian government to stop granting concessions for forest conversion and landclearing on peatlands.
Peat forests are found in parts of Africa and South America, and in large areas of Southeast Asia, especially Borneo and Sumatra. These swamp forestsappear in places where dead vegetation becomes waterlogged and accumulates aspeat, which acts as a sort of sponge that withholds moisture at times of little rainfall and absorbs monsoon rains. When peat swamp forests aredrained for logging purposes or agricultural projects, they become highly susceptible to combustion and forest fires.
Eyes on the Forest, an NGO forest coalition in Sumatra’s Riau Province – consisting of WWF’s Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo Programme, Jikalahari (ForestRescue Network Riau) and Walhi Riau (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) – has cited data that shows that the major factor responsible for this year’sforest fires in Indonesia is a result of forest conversion, mainly on peat soilsites.
Monitoring conducted in July by Eyes on the Forest found that 56% of fire hotspots detected in Riau were located on peatlands. In the sameperiod, nearly 30% of the hotspots detected in West Kalimantan were situated on peatsoil.
“Peat soil is highly flammable, producing much more smoke and carbon emissions than fires on other soil types,” said Zulfahmi, a coordinator withJikalahari.
“Once lit, it is very difficult to extinguish fires on peatlands. The best way to prevent forest fires is to halt the granting of licences for landclearing on peatlands, and by conserving the areas.”
Such a call is in line with a recent declaration on Riau’s peatlands and climate change made by representatives from 12 countries, which recommendedthat conversion of peatlands be stopped and immediate action taken to rehabilitate and responsibly use tropical peatlands.
“It is time for the government of Indonesia to implement a moratorium on conversion of peatland forests into industrial timber and palm oilplantations,” said Hapsoro, Greenpeace’s Regional Forest Campaigner in Southeast Asia.
The environmental NGO are also calling on the government to bring the perpetrators of forest and land fires to court and impose effectivesanctions, particularly for those allegedly involved in repeat incidents.
“To ensure a deterrent effect, the government should revoke operational licences of companies that proved to deliberately initiate open burning inthe forest,” said Johny Mundung, Director Executive of WALHI Riau.
Inadequate legislation is also believed to be a factor hampering the authorities from properly prosecuting offenders.
“Forest and plantation-based companies should operate by complying with the law and respecting sustainable forest conservation efforts,” said MubariqAhmad, Executive Director of WWF-Indonesia. “We call on consumer countries to ensure that their supply chain is not sourced from companies thatconverted and burned peatlands.”
Besides halting new land clearing on peatlands and sustainably managing the land, companies are also urged to rehabilitate or restore areas that hadbeen cleared.
There is also a call for the Indonesian government to immediately ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, the first agreement of itskind that requires countries at the regional level to jointly tackle transboundary haze pollution caused by forest and land fires.