Indonesia predicts fewer forest fires this year, critics not convinced

Indonesia predicts fewer forest fires this year, critics not convinced

05 August 2011

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Indonesia — On the heels of successfully reducing the number of forest fires last year, the Forestry Ministry said it was optimistic about again reducing outbreaks this year.

Ministry secretary-general Hadi Daryanto said that the number of hot spots in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi continued to decrease because of sustained monitoring and fire fighting efforts.

“The dry season has been unusually humid since last year,” he added Thursday.

Daryanto said the fire fighting programs the ministry established in these regions also contributed to the decrease in the number of forest fires.

The ministry said there were only 9,880 hot spots in 2010, far lower than the annual average rate of 58,000 between 2005 and 2009. A hot spot is defined as a fire covering at least 1 hectare of land.

The ministry has recruited special officers for its fire fighting efforts.

However, forest fires continue to be widespread, shedding doubts on the validity of the ministry’s claims.

In February, forest fires scarred large sections of North Sumatra, Jambi and Riau over three days, with fire spreading to peatland areas in Jambi.

In July, fires destroyed hundreds of hectares of protected forest over three days on the slopes of Mount Sipiso-Piso, close to the Lake Toba resort area in Tongging village, Merek district, Karo regency, North Sumatra.

From January to July, the Dumai Agriculture, Plantation and Forestry Agency reported, 69 forest fires affected almost all of the districts in Dumai, Riau.

Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) head of forest fire management Hariri Dedi said the current dry season continued to produce forest fires.

“July to September marks the dry season. There is a large chance that the number of hot spots and forest fires could increase,” Hariri said.

He said the announcement of a decrease in the number of hot spots and forest fires by the Forestry Ministry was premature.

In the face of outbreaks of forest fires, Hariri said the government did not have any concrete plans to tackle the issue.

“So far, they are only focusing on extinguishing fires. The government would be powerless to deal with a massive fire,” he said.

Hariri said preventive measures were essential as they could reduce the possibility of forest fires.

He said the government should follow the example of the WWF, which “advises civil societies to raise awareness of the danger of forest fires through working with local NGOs, long before dry season comes”.

Hariri said Riau, South Sumatra and Jambi were the regions most at risk of forest fires. “Other provinces of concern are West, Central and South Kalimantan,” he added.

Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI)reported that 15 million hectares of forests were destroyed between 2000 and 2009.

“In 2000, Indonesia had 103 million hectares of forest, but there were only 88 million hectares left in 2009. The rate of deforestation in that period reached 1.5 million hectares per year,” FWI executive director Wirendro Sumargo said Wednesday.

“That is the fastest rate of deforestation in the world,” he added.

Wirendro said 5.5 million hectares of the 15 million hectares destroyed were in Kalimantan. “The worst deforestation was in Central Kalimantan, which lost 2 million hectares,” he said.

The study was conducted by analyzing Forestry Ministry data on the condition of Indonesia’s forests in 2000 and comparing it to data from satellite photos in 2009.

“We analyzed 200 satellite photos, each covering 185 square kilometers,” Wirendro said.

The FWI study concluded that the main factors behind the deforestation were oil palm plantations and pulp companies.

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