South Sumatra residents hope elections will bring end to yearly forest fires

South Sumatra residents hope elections will bring end to yearly forest fires

08 December 2015

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Indonesia– Residents of Ogan Ilir in South Sumatra will on Wednesday (Dec 9) vote in local elections for a new local leader.

Close to 300,000 eligible voters in the city were badly affected by the thick haze from Indonesia’s massive forest fires this year. Ogan Ilir was one of the areas hit hardest by the fires, with a total of almost 800,000 hectares of land burnt in the province.

Many of the city’s residents suffered respiratory illnesses as a result of breathing acrid smoke from forest fires. They remain concerned about their long term health and hope this is an issue that a local leader will address.

“What they (the local leaders) should do is to act fast, not to spend too much time planning,” said Muhammad Sobri, Ogan Ilir resident.

Another Ogan Ilir resident, Nurfatina, said that she was “definitely disappointed with the government, because this has been going on for more than 10 years, and they only put out the fires but not prevent it.”

Directly addressing the need for prevention rather than reaction is Helmy Yahya, one of the candidates running in the Ogan Ilir election.

The former quiz, and reality show TV presenter says he wants to work with the central government, and create a new fund, to incentivise people not to burn the land during the four-month dry season.

“We have calculated almost 3,000 households, 3,000 families (burnt their land during haze season),” said Helmy Yahya, candidate for Ogan Ilir.

“(The plan is that) we give them one million rupiah a month, (then) multiply this by four months (over the haze season). It’s only four million times 3,000 … something like 12 billion rupiah. That’s much cheaper compared to the helicopter you have to hire, or the specially-equipped airplane (to put out the fires). It’s very, very costly.”

Political analysts believe the forest fires and haze will be an issue with the voters.

“They think that the local government is not active enough, or have not done enough to protect them. Particularly people who have small children, and elderly people who got sick,” said Paul Rowland, technical advisor of the Reformasi Weekly Review.

“But, it’s also important to understand the role of local government is extremely important in this issue.”

Come Dec 8, residents will be casting their votes at the ballot boxes for one that can bring change, and a better future to their region.

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