S. Sumatra Spot Fires Flare as Dry Season Arrives

S. Sumatra Spot Fires Flare as Dry Season Arrives

21 July 2010

Source:The Jakarta Post

By Khairul Saleh

Indonesia — Entering the end of the rainy season, spot fires have already been reported in a number of regions in South Sumatra province, largely due to uncontrolled slash-and-burn land clearance by locals. Head of the Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency’s forest protection division, Irawan Syaril, said over the weekend in Kayu Agung that fires had been reported in Cengal and Sungai Menang districts. “We have located less than 10 fires. Some others have been doused by rains, but we have to remain alert,” Irawan said. OKI experiences forest fires almost annually thanks to the regency’s vast peat lands. Irawan said his division faced a shortage of funds dealing with the destructive fires.

“[The budget] is too small to meet the threat of forest fires across the vast peat areas that we need to cover,” Irawan said, adding that ideally the amount allocated would be Rp 800 million to Rp 1 billion. He also said the regency only had three forest fire brigades, from the regency forestry agency and the Forestry Ministry, each comprising 15 people, and five fire trucks.

Each year, OKI endures more forest fires than neighboring regencies. In 2009 alone, there were 2,814 fires reported in the regency. “Conditions worsen if the peat lands catch alight, as it creates a dense haze,” he said. The locals’ method of slash-and-burn land clearance, according to Irawan, contributes to the high number of forest fires. “They have to other  option but burn it,” he added.

Cakuk, 36, of Pedamaran subdistrict said they always burn vegetation to clear land because they had done so for generations. The practices are considered the most effective, efficient and cheapest way of converting the land. “We realize the danger, that’s why we always do it with great care,” said the father of three. The six districts considered to be prone to forest fires in OKI regency include Tulung Selapan, Air Sugihan, Cengal, Pampangan, Sungai Menang and Pedamaran. Historically, Indonesian forest fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands have led to widespread disruptions in neighboring countries.

Malaysia and Singapore usually feel the brunt of massive amounts of air pollution and air traffic disruptions. Last year, the haze from the forest fires spilled over to blanket Malaysia. At home, the haze caused the closure of Dumai’s Pinang Kampar airport in Riau as visibility dropped to below 50 meters. The WWF Indonesia detected 5,349 outbreaks of forest fires across the country last year. The fires were reported mostly in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and West Kalimantan provinces.

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