Indonesia– Indonesias Peatland Restoration Agency, which aims to restore damaged peatlands destroyed by forest fires, may be set up in the next few days.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry told Channel NewsAsia that amendments to the presidential regulation on the formation of the agency is already with President Joko Widodo.
Mr Widodo is expected to sign it soon, and announce the personnel that will be leading it.
Preventive steps have been prepared, and some have started to be implemented,” he said.
In November, the government announced that it was taking steps to restore the damaged land by setting up the agency. More than two million hectares of land were ravaged by the forest fires between June and October 2015.
President Widodo also told world leaders about the project when he spoke at the Paris climate change conference last month.
The agency will coordinate restoration efforts across several ministries, and will report directly to the President. Restoration works will focus on seven provinces hit by the forest fires last year.
It aims to improve the hydrology system and control the network of canals in the peatlands. For example, if the canals are damaged, the agency will respond immediately.
In addition, it will control the use of peatlands and manage issues in connection with peatland permits.
Environmental groups welcomed the establishment of such an agency, but Kiki Taufik, Forest Campaign Manager from Greenpeace Indonesia said it has to start work soon.
Mr Kiki said: This new agency probably will need time to be set up. The fires could happen again in July or August, so now its very urgent for us, not only to wait for the structure of the agency (to be set up), but the planning process should also be clear.
The government said it has finished mapping the entire peatland ecosystem in Indonesia, creating the base map of the restoration project.
‘LONG LIST OF CONFLICTS’
Nur Hidayati from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, known as Walhi, said she believes the initiative must not create a new conflict with the community.
“With regards to tenure, regarding the land rights, thats the most important thing because we see that for a long time there is still a long list of conflicts, tenure conflicts, land rights conflicts thats created human rights violation in the past that have not been resolved yet, she said.
Second, what we hope is that this is aimed at restoration as a way to give back to the local community access to manage the natural resources. We are not hoping that this kind of initiative will be another way for corporations to get their land to increase their land bank.
Last week, a district court in South Sumatra rejected a government lawsuit against pulpwood plantation company Bumi Mekar Hijau for clearing land by illegal burning.
The court said there was no evidence the company purposely started the fires. However, the new Peatland Restoration Agency may be able to indirectly help the government in future lawsuits.
“In future, there will be concrete information from the agency that the land cannot be cultivated, said Krisna Rya, the head of the Environment and Forestry Ministrys Law Bureau.
The agency will map the land, and there will be proof the companies did not protect the land. The agency will provide the data. Directly no, but indirectly we need the data as evidence.
The restoration project is expected to cost about US$3.6 billion. The government has set aside funds from the state budget, and countries like Norway and United States have also given their commitment to give financial help.