Analysis of the Causes and Impacts of Forest Fires and Haze – World


Analysis of the Causes andImpacts of Forest Fires and Haze – World

Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Indonesia

Source: A Review of Fire Projects in Indonesia (1982-1998) Rona Dennis. 1998.  prepared for CIFOR, ICRAF, UNESCO, EC JRS Ispra

Funding: WWF-Netherlands, WWF-Intemational, WWF-UK, and the Body Shop
Executing Agency: WWF-Indonesia
Budget: US$546 590 (approximately one-half already received from WWF-NL)
Partners: EEPSEA; IDRISI Project at Clark University; George
Washington University (GWU); BAPEDAL; PHPA; World
Resources Institute (WRI); TELAPAK; WALHI; IFFM-GTZ
Regions/Provinces: Southeast Asia (economic impacts), Tanjung Puting NP
and Kutai NP (ecological impacts), Kalimantan and Sumatra (remote sensing/GIS)
Time-frame: October 1997-September 1998; Phase 2 will start in October 1998
Project Office:WWF-Indonesia, Ji. Kramat Pela No. 3, Gandaria Utara
Jakarta Selatan 12140
Tel: 021 7203095, Fax: 021 7395907
Project Coordinator: Fernando Gonzalez (e-mail:

WWF Project Description

As early as September 1997,WWF-Indonesia was already providing support to the Ministry of Environment’s Fire Command Centre at BAPEDAL through GIS technical expertise in producing the daily hot spot maps. WWF-Netherlands also provided funding for the compilation of a bibliography on forest fires in Indonesia (Meijaard and Dennis 1997) to assist those investigating the current fires. In December 1997, WWF International issued a report titled ‘The Year the World Caught Fire’ (WWF 1997), which described how the fires in Indonesia fit into the larger global picture of fires.

The project is focusing on the causes of the 1997/98 fires and their impacts through the following activities:

  • background assessment of the forest fires;
  • economic assessment in cooperation with the Economic and Environment Program of
  • South-East Asia (EEPSEA);
  • policy assessment; based on the data gathered, a policy analysis will be conducted and policy recommendations developed;
  • biological assessment;
  • remote sensing/GIS assessment of burnt area in cooperation with George Washington University and the IDRISI Project at Clark University;
  • social assessment;
  • communication of results through press releases, workshops, and reports; and
  • training of park rangers from Kutai NP and Tanjung NP in ecological monitoring, along with technical assistance in fire monitoring using- GIS provided to BAPEDAL.

Economic Assessment

Since October 1997, WWF-Indonesia and EEPSEA have been undertaking a study to assess th economic cost of the damage caused by the 1997 fires and haze. The study is being carried out by EEPSEA and WWF staff and academic researchers in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, wit methodological advice from international experts. An interim report presenting estimates for haz damage only was submitted to the ASEAN Environment Ministers meeting in late February 199 and to the general public (EEPSEA/WWF 1998a). New estimates, which included fire damage were released on 29 May 1998 (EEPSEAIWWF 1998b).

Policy Assessment

In October 1997, WWF-Indonesia, along with the Indonesian Environmental Forum (WALHI and the World Resources Institute (WRI), launched a proposal to ‘study the human an environmental impacts of the fires and haze, to document their direct and underlying causes, an to recommend government policy and procedure revisions’ (Schweithelm 1998). WRI is concentrating on policy/institutional analyses and is the principal author; WWF-Indonesia is concentrating on economic cost assessment and ecological impacts; WALHI is focusing on impacts on local economies and health impacts, and TELAPAK on policy/institutional analysis. The report will be published in the WRI Forest Frontiers Initiative series in August 1998. USAID is supporting WRI in carrying out the policy analysis component. In May 1998, a thorough overview and discussion of the forest fires in 1997-98, titled ‘The Fire This Time’, was published by WWF-Indonesia (Schweithelm 1998).

Assessment of the Oil Palm Business

The objective of this study was to identify options for WWF to promote fire free, ‘zero-burning’ techniques for land clearing among oil palm plantation companies in Indonesia. A detailed report was published in April 1998 (Wakker 1998). This study carried out a thorough examination of the oil palm industry in Indonesia and the possibilities for ‘zero-burning’ techniques. The study concluded that:

  • fire free land clearing is urgently needed in Indonesia; the benefits are better soil properties, environmental gain, and zero air pollution;
  • zero burning is a faster method of clearing land and can lead to an earlier harvest and income;
  • zero burning should be promoted among Indonesian oil palm plantation companies; to achieve this, companies should be provided with incentives to overcome the constraints of the technique (higher cost, perceived risk of pests and disease, lack of trained personnel, equipment, and clearing contractors);
  • WWF-Indonesia should establish collaboration with the palm oil research institutes in Malaysia and Indonesia that are researching zero-burning techniques;
  • the government should adopt a decree explicitly stating that plantation companies can be fined for any fires observed on their land;
  • international banks could be requested to adopt policies to stop financing projects that involve burning as a means of clearing land for development; and
  • monitoring of fires in plantations should be carried out routinely by oil palm research institutes.

Remote Sensing/GIS Assessment

These activities are being carried out jointly by the IDRISI Project at Clark University, USA; the Department of Geography at George Washington University, USA; and WWF-Indonesia. The activities are still at an early stage and deal mainly with data processing (pers. comm.’). The group now has a fairly complete AVHRR data set for 1997 for most of Kalimantan. The plan is to use the imagery to:

  • locate burn scars;
  • improve current or develop new land cover maps;
  • reassess current hot spot maps and mapping approaches; and
  • recommend improved approaches for operational monitoring of fire risk, active fires,
  • and burn scars.

Biological Assessment

The team will conduct surveys of the ecological impacts on soil, vegetation, and species at sites in Kalimantan (Tanjung Puting National Park and Kutai NP). A preliminary fire impact study was carried out in Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan in December 1997 (Lilley 1998; Saleh 1998). Sowerby and Yeager (1997) also produced a report on the effects of fire on wildlife and ecosystem processes.

Social Assessment

WWF-Indonesia is studying the effects of the fires on traditional forest dwellers and more recent immigrants to forest areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan. These studies will also try to determine how economic, social, and political forces cause rural people to engage in activities that increase the risk of uncontrolled forest fires, and how the fires may ultimately affect the welfare of these communities.

Interim Recommendations

These interim recommendations were issued (from EEPSEA/WWF 1998b):

  • declare a moratorium on the ‘1 Million Hectare Rice Project’ in Central Kalimantan; clarify land ownership laws that encourage individuals and companies to clear land as a way of staking a claim;
  • enforce existing laws that regulate the use of fire for land clearing; make full and prompt use of fire monitoring data provided through regional and international programmes to identify and prosecute those responsible for illegal burning;
  • chance policies that keep the prices of wood to processing mills low, thus providing little incentive to protect standing timber or to sell scrap wood rather than burn it;
  • lengthen the term of leases of forest land to timber companies, which currently provide little incentive to manage forests sustainably; this should be coupled with strict enforcement of regulations governing forestry practices;
  • investigate no-burn methods for land clearing; a recent WWF study (Wakker 1998) showed this to be a promising option; and
  • reduce targets for planned forest conversion and instead establish new plantations in unused grasslands, of which Indonesia has several million hectares.


Schweithelm, J. 1998. The Fire this Time – An Overview of Indonesia’s Forest Fires in 1997-98. Discussion Pape for project ID162 Analysis of the Causes and Impacts of Forest Fires and Haze.

EEPSEA and WWF 1998a. Interim results of a Study on the Economic Value of Haze Damages in SE Asia. WWF Indonesia and EEPSEA

EEPSEA and WWF 1998b. The Indonesian Fires and haze of 1997: The Economic Toll – Interim Report. WWF Indonesia and EEPSEA

Lilley, R. 1998. Reptile and Amphibian Survey in Central Kalimantamn, with special reference to the impact of forest fires. Unpublishes report for WWF-IP

Saleh, C. 1998. Wildlife Survey Report from Burned and unburned Forest Areas in central Kalimantan, WWF-IP

Sowerby, J. and Yeager, C.P. 1997. Fire Effects on Forests, Forest Wildlife and associated Ecosystem Processes. Unpublished Report WWF-IP

Wakker, E. 1998. Introducing zero-burning techniques in Indonesia’s oil palm plantations. Report prepared for WWF-IP. Published by AIDEnvironment



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