Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Environmental group Greenpeace called Wednesday onIndonesia to halt land clearing fires, warning that thick haze from the blazesthreatened the health of millions of people and contributed to climate change.
“Greenpeace is calling on the Indonesian government to stop all landclearing operations in fragile forest environments in order to break this annualcycle, which is destroying large tracts of forests in Sumatra,” theorganisation was quoted by AFP as saying in a press release.
Haze would continue to smother Southeast Asia annually if Indonesia failed tostop the burning of peat forests — a type of forest which is widespread inSumatra and Indonesian Borneo — the group said.
“Once these peat swamps are exposed due to logging, clearing for canals andconcessions, they dry out like a wet sponge exposed to sunlight and becomeextremely flammable,” said Greenpeace campaigner Hapsoro in the statement.
“Unless the conversion of these types of forests is stopped we willcontinue to experience large scale forest fires and continued environmentaldestruction on an annual basis,” he added.
Indonesia’s neighbours have urged it to curb the annual haze crisis by crackingdown on forest fires, warning that it is hurting business and putting offtourists.
Greenpeace blamed industrial forest concessions after carrying out aninvestigation in Sumatra.
“Forest clearing for acacia pulpwood and oil palm plantations are theleading causes of the fires and also a factor in creating environmentalconditions that perpetuate the problem.”
It alleged that conversion of peat land and forest fires was releasing massivequantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere further adding to theproblem of climate change.
Greenpeace also urged the government to declare the fires a national emergencyand to prosecute plantation companies found responsible for the slash and burnland clearing.
Earlier Wednesday, thick haze stopped air traffic in and out of an airport inWest Kalimantan province, a local meteorological agency said.
Police in Jakarta meanwhile said they were investigating companies suspected ofstarting fires. Although the government has outlawed clearing land by fire,enforcement has been weak.
The police statement came after the Jakarta-based environment group Walhidemanded the investigation of more than 100 palm oil and industrial forestcompanies for allegedly starting fires.