Many fires, less water

23 August 2019

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INDONESIA – Precautionary measures to deal with severe drought and its impacts may have become routine for Indonesia, but the practice has not yet been made perfect.

With climate change continuing to show its ill effects, Indonesia needs extra efforts to mitigate environmental disasters.

The wildfires that are now raging in Brazil’s Amazon at a record rate serve as a fresh warning, if not a lesson, for Indonesia, which along with Brazil possesses the largest rainforests in the world. The governments of the two countries have come under criticism for not doing enough to stop deforestation, which results from, among other factors, forest fires.

Forest and land fires remain unabated in Indonesia, especially now that the country is experiencing a long drought. This, however, is not to say that the dry season is to blame for the fire disaster because in many cases, it is humans who started the flames.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry announced recently that wildfires had burned 135,747 hectares of land between January and July. East Nusa Tenggara topped the list with 71,712 ha, followed by Riau, South Kalimantan and East Kalimantan, where the new capital will be located.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has predicted that the dry season will continue until October because of “a negative anomaly of the country’s sea surface temperature”. The agency has detected a weak El Niño weather phenomenon, but with more hotspots dotting Sumatra and Kalimantan’s forests this month, it seems the worst has yet to come.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto said Wednesday the government was focusing on efforts to prevent forest and land fires. Anticipatory measures will include community education in areas near forests, considering a report from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency that found humans were responsible for 90 percent of forest fires.

However, only a few people or corporations have so far stood trial for causing forest fires, which may indicate a lack of commitment and capacity to punish forest burners.

During the prolonged dry season, fire disasters always come with a water crisis. Draining sources of water pose a threat not only to food security as a result of crop failure, but also industries that rely on electricity generated from hydropower plants. For ordinary people, the depleting supply of clean water will easily trigger a number of diseases.

A number of local governments have reported water scarcity. The BMKG has warned a water crisis is looming in Greater Jakarta and Banten, apart from increasing air pollution levels.

Many decades ago, Indonesia was described as fertile land, where rivers flowed and enlivened people lived. Water was abundant for everyone to consume. Development, however, has moved forward as an antithesis of nature conservation as seen in rampant environmental degradation.

The Earth is now seeking revenge. We run out of water when we need it the most to douse the fires.

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