Indonesia — More than 90 percent of the more than 800 fire hot spots detected in East Kalimantan this year can be attributed to slash-and-burn forest clearing by local farmers, an official said on Monday.
Firdaus Nantawadhana, the head of forest fire monitoring at the provincial forestry agency, said his office had detected 825 hot spots across the province this year using satellite imagery, nearly all of them blamed on forest-clearing practices.
The fires arent massive, but the satellite detected hundreds of them, and most of them were caused by slash-and-burn land clearing, he said.
Firdaus said that much of the land cleared this way consisted of bushy terrain in low rainfall area, thus increasing the potential for the fires to spread.
Kutai Kartanegara district was identified as the most prone to forest fires, with 204 hot spots detected there, followed by West Kutai with 129 hot spots.
Slash-and-burn land clearing usually occurs during the rainy season ahead of the planting season, Firdaus said.
Local farmers consider it more practical than clearing the land with tools or machinery, he added.
These people are fully aware that clearing land by setting fires is prohibited, yet they keep doing it when there are no officials around. And they always hide when officials come by to inspect.
Forest fires set by farmers, who in many cases are smallholders employed by palm oil companies, have long been blamed for generating choking haze that blankets not just the immediate locality but also spreads to neighboring countries.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was earlier this year compelled to apologize after haze from fires in Sumatras Riau province sent air pollution indices in Singapore and Malaysia to record levels.
Officials in those countries are now warning of a possible resurgence in the problem as fires rage out of control in Sumatra. At a summit in Brunei last week, the three countries, as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, agreed to adopt a new system to improve monitoring of smog caused by fires.
Under the Singapore-developed Haze Monitoring System, governments in the region will share satellite data to pinpoint fires and identify companies, most of them palm oil producers, that hold concessions in the affected land.