Local Laws Can Make the Difference In Combating Forest Fires, Experts Say

Local Laws Can Make the Difference in Combating Forest Fires, Experts say

21 February 2011

published by www.thejakartaglobe.com

Indonesia — An expert from the Environment Ministry has called on regional authorities and political parties to draw up provincial bylaws to ban the use of fire for land clearing purposes as a way of reducing haze and saving forests.

Gusti Nurpansyah, an expert at the ministry, said only three provinces — Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Riau — had haze regulations in place so far, while the majority of forest fires annually hitting the country at the end of the rainy season burn across Sumatra, the Indonesian part of Borneo island and Papua.

“Political parties and local governments need to take the initiative and draw up regional regulations banning the burning of land and forests,” Gusti said over the weekend.

He added that such regulations would help reduce the number of yearly returning hotspots and curb the emission of greenhouse gasses.

Central Kalimantan, he said, was one of the provinces that had managed to reduce the number of its hotspots by up to 65 percent.

Meanwhile, in Dumai city, Riau, haze — suspected to be coming from forest fires — had begun to appear on Friday.

The head of Dumai’s Environmental Agency, Basri, said the haze was beginning to pose a threat to health and transportation in the region.

“We are asking drivers to be careful in the streets and turn on their lights to prevent any accidents because we estimate visibility to be under one kilometer now,” Basri said.

The Environment Ministry is still struggling to get the country to ratify the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

The agreement was drawn up by countries around the region in 2002 in response to the widespread wildfires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that sent a thick haze into the skies for months in the mid-1980s and late 1990s.

The worst haze was in the late 1990s, with thick smog blanketing the sky over Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand for months.

Indonesia is the only member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that has yet to ratify the pact, with the House of Representatives objecting in 2008, saying it threatened the country’s sovereignty.

The Environment Ministry said last month that the agreement could pave the way for more carbon trading projects because Indonesia would have more forested area to leverage in carbon-trading negotiations with other countries. That would only work if the fires could be prevented, though.

The central government has already broadly outlawed the burning of forests, but enforcement of the law has been weak because of manpower and financial constraints.

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