German-funded agency to help Indonesia prevent forest fires

German-funded agency to help Indonesia prevent forest fires

11 July 2017

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Indonesia / SE Asia / GFMC –  An independent researchbased agency that was launched on Monday in Jakarta is set to assist Southeast Asian countries in addressing serious challenges related to the management of forest fires in the region.

The agency, the Regional Fire Management Resource Center — Southeast Asia Region (RFMRC-SEA), was established by the German-based Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), which is financially supported by the German federal government. It will be headquartered at the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) in West Java.

While the RFMRC-SEA has a long-term initiative to assist the region, the center’s primary focus will be on assisting Indonesia, given its status as the host country and its position in what it calls the “hot seat” for regional fire management challenges.

RFMRC-SEA project coordinator Bambang Hero Saharjo, who is also a forestry professor at IPB, said the center would provide “scientific-based” assistance, especially in preventing forest fires. A lack of scientific information on preventive measures may have been a contributing factor to the occurrence of fires in past years, he said.

“For instance, last year, […] there were fewer forest fires than the previous year, but we still don’t know whether this was merely because of successful efforts by the government, or […] if the La Nina [weather phenomenon reduced the number of fires],” Bambang told reporters after the RFMRCSEA launching at the Environment and Forestry Ministry office.

“This kind of information has to be based on scientific data and has to be familiarized to the public,” Bambang said.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said in January that the plummeting number of forest fires in 2016 was primarily the result of “hard work” by related governmental agencies and the regional administration. Forest fires hit 97,787 hectares of peatland in 2016, a steep decrease from the 2015 figure of 891,275 ha, she said, citing data.

The large number of forest fires in 2015, which resulted in severe economic and health losses for Indonesian citizens and the spread of haze to its regional peers, coincided with increased temperatures triggered by the El Nino phenomenon. Meanwhile, its La Nina counterpart brought in heavier rainfall in 2016 and thus wetter conditions.

Bambang said the center would provide an improved forest fire early warning system. Using a NASA satellite, RFMC-SEA’s monitoring system is expected to better detect fires compared to the current system, which is managed only on work days.

The GFMC has three forest fire centers worldwide, with operations based in Skopje, Macedonia, to monitor Southeast Europe; Kiev, Ukraine, for Eastern Europe; and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, for Central Asia. It plans to establish two more centers, one in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, to monitor Central Eurasia and one in South America.

GFMC executive director Johann Georg Goldammer said the regional centers were tasked with “providing scientific knowledge to the decision making process” for policy makers and communities. Environment and Forestry Ministry secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono, who was present at the event, said that Indonesia had “done its utmost in diminishing forest fires” and that steps were being taken to protect Indonesia’s 15 million ha of peatland from forest fires.

One such preventive measure is a peat conversion plan, which is laid out in four ministerial regulations issued as a follow-up on the revision of a government regulation on peatland protection and the government’s peatland hydrological area (KHG) map.

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