Posts Tagged ‘Kalimantan’

Indonesian military officer orders that forest burners be shot — authorities struggle to contain fires that cause choking smoke in the region

August 5, 2017

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An Indonesian ranger inspecting the peat forest fire at Meulaboh, Aceh province. PHOTO: AFP 

JAKARTA (REUTERS) – A military official in the Indonesian province of Jambi said on Saturday (Aug 5) that he has ordered that anyone who deliberately sets fire to forest areas be shot, as the authorities struggle to contain fires that cause choking smoke in the region.

Five Indonesian provinces have declared emergencies because of forest fires, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), with the number of hotspots steadily increasing in many areas over the past week.

The BNPB is working with many government branches, including the military, to contain the fires.

Indonesian media have reported that the authorities in the neighbouring province of South Sumatra, also on the island of Sumatra, had issued the same order.

“This is to stress a point to the people, who have been warned many, many times,” said Colonel Refrizal, commander of the forest fire task force in Jambi. “(This is) to show our firmness and seriousness.”

The order would be carried out “responsibly”, said Refrizal, who goes by one name.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter the Jambi task force was working to extinguish a fire covering an area of 10 hectares (25 acres).

Nugroho also said the authorities had found one area in Jambi that had been “intentionally” burned by its owner.

The number of hotspots had increased to 239 by July 30, from 173 hotspots three days earlier, according to the BNPB.

The hotspots were seen mostly on Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, with some also on Sumatra and Java island.

The agency had previously warned that the threat of forest fires would escalate, with the dry season expected to peak in September.

Indonesia is regularly hit by forest fires, which can result in choking smoke blowing across to neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

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An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo

The sprawling South-east Asian archipelago suffered some of its worst forest fires in 2015, hitting Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The World Bank, citing government data, said 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land in Indonesia burned between June and October 2015, causing US$16 billion (S$21.7 billion) of estimated economic damage.

Draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by palm oil plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires, the World Bank said.


 (Contains links to several related articles)

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Carbon monoxide concentrations world-wide during the Indonesian burning season, 2015



Lawless Seas: Sulu Sea Kidnappings a Threat to Merchant Shipping — “Pirates and Abu Sayyaf are there.”

January 10, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR — The Sulu Sea between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines has become dangerous for merchant shipping due to rising threat of kidnappings, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said on Tuesday.

The Sulu archipelago is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda linked group notorious for kidnappings and, increasingly, piracy.

abu sayyaf

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The IMB report was released just hours after armed men attacked a fishing boat, killing eight fishermen, in what appeared to be a pirate attack off the southern Philippines.

IMB said global sea kidnappings rose three-fold in 2016, even as global piracy hit its lowest level in nearly 20 years. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016.

“The kidnapping of crew from ocean going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the Southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks,” Kuala Lumpur-based IMB said.

IMB is advising charterers and owners to consider avoiding the Sulu Sea by routing vessels West of Kalimantan.

Tug boats, barges and fishing vessels have been targeted previously, but lately merchant ships are also being attacked, IMB said. They include the massive 180,000 tonne iron ore carrier Kumiai Shagang that saw an attempted attack late last year.

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Several sailors and tourists were taken captive by Islamist militants last year in attacks on tug boats and yachts in the Celebes and Sulu seas, raising concern among defense officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

In November, the Philippines agreed to allow Malaysia and Indonesia to carry out “hot pursuits” in its territorial waters, as the three nations looked to tackle kidnappings and piracy by Abu Sayyaf.

Commenting on the threat of kidnappings in the Sulu Sea area, one Singapore-based senior maritime security executive said: “The only worthwhile advice is to avoid the area.”

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur and Keith Wallis in Singapore; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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Moro Islamic Liberation Front is suspected of carrying out an assault on a prison in the southern Philippines on Wednesday January 3, 2017

Study Estimates 100,000 Premature Deaths From Indonesia Haze

September 19, 2016

By Steven Wright
The Associated Press
September 19, 2016 — 12:11 AM EDT



Indonesia Court Finds Corporation Guilty of Setting Illegal Fires

August 31, 2016

A helicopter from Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency dousing fires in Kampar in Riau province on Aug 29, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The Palembang High Court has overturned a lower court’s decision to clear pulpwood firm Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) of illegally setting fires on its concession land in 2014.

According to a copy of the Aug 12 ruling that was seen by The Straits Times, the firm was found to have “committed an unlawful act”.

The High Court also ordered BMH, which supplies products to Indonesia’s Sinar Mas Group, to pay 78.5 billion rupiah (S$8 million) in damages.

The award is a small fraction of the 7.8 trillion rupiah in damages sought by the Environment and Forestry Ministry when it first filed the civil suit against BMH last year.

Still, green groups such as the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) hailed the latest verdict as a “small win” for Indonesia’s conservation efforts.

Walhi’s South Sumatra chapter director Hadi Jatmiko said: “On the one hand, the court is on the side of the environment by saying BMH is guilty of having illegally burnt 20,000ha of its own concession in 2014. But it is disappointing that the compensation is less than 1 per cent of the total sum demanded.”

Indonesia – through its Environment and Forestry Ministry – has been taking errant firms to task over illegal forest fires that have been the cause of transboundary haze pollution.

Mr Jasmin Ragil Utomo, who is from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, yesterday acknowledged the court’s decision.

“The most important thing is that the court has declared that the company has committed a violation,” said Mr Jasmin, who is the ministry’s director for environmental dispute settlement.

BMH’s lawyers declined to comment on the case, saying they have not received an official copy of the latest verdict.

This is not the first time BMH is in the news over allegations related to forest fires. Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency earlier this year said the firm has been ordered to restore 95,000ha of damaged peatland in its concessions.

An Indonesian soldier tries to extingusih a peatland fire in Kampar, Riau, Sumatra island, Indonesia on Aug 23, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS / ANTARA FOTO

Satellite data from Global Forest Watch detected at least 22 fire alerts in their pulpwood concessions between Aug 21 and Sunday.

Indonesia – through its Environment and Forestry Ministry – has been taking errant firms to task over illegal forest fires that have been the cause of transboundary haze pollution.

Haze from fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra returned in recent weeks, prompting fears of a repeat of last year’s crisis, which sent air pollution levels to a record high and affected millions of people in the region.

Yesterday, heavy rainfall across Indonesia provided much-needed relief for people in Sumatra’s Riau province.

Several areas in Riau were hit by severe air pollution in recent days, prompting some schools to suspend classes since Monday.

Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) yesterday said a combination of rain and fire-fighting efforts, including cloud-seeding operations, helped improve air quality.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who heads BNPB’s data and information division, said the air pollution standard index for most regions in Sumatra was generally under 50, or in the “good” range.

In Riau’s Rokan Hilir regency – one of the worst-hit areas in recent days and where fire-fighting efforts were focused yesterday – the air quality was “moderate”.

“Fire-fighting operations in the six provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan will continue,” said Dr Sutopo.

A total of five BNPB helicopters as well as three fixed-wing aircraft have been deployed to douse fires in Riau, he added.

Indonesian president aboard warship to South China Sea islands in message to Beijing — Widodo intends to hold a cabinet meeting aboard the warship

June 23, 2016


Indonesia’s sovereignty, illegal fishing on the agenda


World | Thu Jun 23, 2016 3:33am EDT

Indonesia’s president visited the Natuna Islands aboard a warship on Thursday, making a bold move to assert sovereignty over the area in the southern reaches of the South China Sea after Beijing stated its “over-lapping claim” on nearby waters.

President Joko Widodo’s visit along with his chief security minister and foreign minister was described by Indonesian officials as the strongest message that has been given to China over the issue.

A presidential palace statement said Widodo intended to hold a cabinet meeting aboard the warship.

“In the course of our history, we’ve never been this stern (with China). This is also to demonstrate that the president is not taking the issue lightly,” Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan told The Jakarta Post newspaper.

Beijing said on Monday that while China does not dispute Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, “some waters of the South China Sea” were subject to “overlapping claims on maritime rights and interests”.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Wednesday rejected China’s stance, saying the waters around Natuna are in Indonesian territory.

There have been a series of face-offs between Indonesian and Chinese vessels in the area but both sides have denied that the matter is a territorial or diplomatic dispute.

Widodo’s visit to the remote island chain, which lies over 340 kilometers (212 miles) off the northwest tip of Kalimantan – Indonesia’s portion of Borneo island – was also aimed at promoting infrastructure development in Indonesia’s border areas.

“We want to show that Indonesia is a big country and we have to show this physically,” Widodo said in a statement, referring to those infrastructure ambitions.

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)


Jokowi to visit Natuna to uphold RI’s sovereignty

By Ayomi Amindoni
The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, June 22 2016 | 07:29 pm

Doomed: Seized foreign ships moor off the northern tip of Bunguran Island in Natuna regency, Riau Islands, recently. The government is set to sink the ships, pending a court decision.(JP/Rendi A. Witular)

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will visit Natuna, Riau Islands province, on Thursday to demonstrate Indonesia’s sovereignty over the waters in the outer part of the archipelago, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said on Wednesday.

The President’s visit is deemed timely following spats between the Indonesian Navy and Chinese vessels in the waters, which have been claimed by China as its traditional fishing grounds.

“Natuna belongs to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia [NKRI] and that’s final. As the head of government and the head of state, the President wants to make sure that Natuna always remains part of Indonesia,” Pramono said.

China protested to Indonesia after a Chinese fisherman was injured on the weekend when the Navy arrested a China-flagged vessel, the Han Tan Cou 19038, along with its seven crew members for allegedly poaching in Natuna waters, a part of the South China Sea that China claims falls within its nine-dash-line territory.

Indonesian warship KRI Imam Bonjol-383 fired warning shots at a Chinese fishing vessel apparently engaged in Illegal fishing in Indonesian waters near the Natuna islands. This was one in a series of encounters between China and Indonesia at sea.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia would not file a counter protest with China. She saw the action by the Navy, which arrested one of 12 foreign boats suspected of illegal fishing in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, was correct and sufficient in handling the situation. (yan)



© Indonesia Navy/AFP | Indonesian War Ship KRI Imam Bonjol-363 arrests a Chinese fishing boat in Natuna water on June 21, 2016 — Charged with illegal fishing


Chinese fishing crew undergo intensive questioning in Natuna islands

“Economic matters are economic matters, and violations are violations.”

By Haeril Halim, Nurul Fitri Ramadhani and Ina Parlina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, June 22 2016 | 09:15 am

The Navy’s Western Region Fleet Command (Koarmabar), which arrested the Chinese fishing vessel Han Tan Cou 19038 in Natuna waters over the weekend, is stepping up its investigation into the seven crew members to complete their case dossiers.

They are being investigated over allegations of illegally fishing in Indonesian territory, as the Koarmabar had seized their ship as evidence to build a strong case against the seven, comprising six men and a woman.

The Navy has denied China’s claim that one of its fishermen was injured during the incident after Koarmabar personnel shot at the Han Tan Cou 19038 to stop it after it resisted arrest, adding that the crew suffered no injuries and were securely held at the Navy base’s detention center in Sabangmawang, Natuna regency,
Riau province.

“We detained them for investigation and they are all well. You can go there yourself to see that they are all doing well [at the detention center],” Koarmabar commander Rear Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrahman told a press briefing in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The Navy chased 12 Chinese fishing vessels in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near Natuna late on Friday, before the Han Tan Cou 19038 was left behind by the other 11 vessels, according to the Koarmabar. It was left behind because its nets had already been cast when the Navy’s KRI Imam Bonjol arrived in the area, unlike the other vessels.

KRI Imam Bonjol personnel fired a warning shot to reprimand the Han Tan Cou 19038 but it ignored the call. Consequently, in what the Navy called a “dangerous” maneuver, it shot at the vessel’s front side in attempt to halt it.

A member of the Indonesian navy standing before the Chinese trawler Hua Li-8 in Belawan, North Sumatra, on April 23, 2016. Hua Li-8 was detained on a charge of illegal fishing. PHOTO: AFP

When KRI Imam Bonjol was towing the Han Tan Cou 19038 to Natuna Islands, two Chinese coast guard ships approached the KRI Imam Bonjol and demanded the Han Tan Cou 19038’s release. The Navy ignored the request and brought the vessel to Natuna.

Satuday’s incident was the third such case in the past two months. Previous arrests also saw the involvement of the Chinese coast guard protecting other compatriot fishing vessels.

Chinese vessels continue to fish in Indonesia’s EEZ because the Chinese claim that the waters are part of its traditional fishing areas. This claim is not recognized by international law, yet the Chinese coast guard has been maintaining its presence in Indonesia’s EEZ.

Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said that it would let the Foreign Ministry coordinate with the Chinese government and inform them of the Chinese coast guard’s frequent involvement with Navy patrolling activities in Natuna waters.

Gatot said that the result of the ongoing investigation would later determine whether the Han Tan Cou 19038 would be sunk as part of a government policy to deter foreign vessels from illegally fishing in its waters.

Earlier, the government had dispatched five Navy warships as well as a CR 212 aircraft to Natuna in order to secure the area from illegal poachers. On Monday, the government established a team of international law experts to find a peaceful solution to its recurring standoff with China in Natuna.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said Indonesia’s firm stance to arrest Chinese vessels would not hurt the economic partnership between the two countries.

“Economic matters are economic matters, and violations are violations. That’s why we want to solve the problem peacefully without much noise,” Luhut said.


Above Chinese chart shows Chin’a “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim.

The chart below shows in stark terms the vast ocean area China is claiming. China says it can stop shipping or air traffic in this zone any time it wants and has talked about establishing an Air Defense identification Zone (ADIZ) here.

Indonesia sinks 23 foreign boats captured for illegal fishing

April 5, 2016

The Associated Press

UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 9:08 pm

The boats, 13 from Vietnam and 10 from Malaysia, were blown up simultaneously in seven ports from Tarakan in northern Kalimantan to Ranai on the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea.

Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti witnessed the destruction, which was coordinated by the navy, coast guard and police, via live-streamed Internet video at her office in downtown Jakarta.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, has taken a tough stance against illegal fishing since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office in 2014.

Pudjiastuti has overseen the capture of nearly 200 illegal fishing boats from several countries after declaring a fishing moratorium for foreign vessels.

A total of 174 illegal fishing boats have been blown up. The fates of 20 others await court rulings.

Last month, Indonesia destroyed the Nigeria-flagged Viking with explosives. The ship was wanted around the world for illegally taking toothfish from southern waters.

It was seized by the Indonesian navy on February 25 while operating in waters south of Singapore.



Indonesia burns a Vietnamese fishing boat on August 17, 2015

Indonesian navy scuttles foreign fishing vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters

Indonesian Government Sinks Vietnamese Fishing Boat 1


We at Peace and Freedom have never seen any evidence that fishermen from the Philippines or Vietnam have used fire bombs on Chinese ships. But we have seen evidence of China fire bombing Vietnamese and Filipino vessels.  Here: Captain Pham Quang Thanh on his Vietnamese fishing boat that was fire-bombed  and set on fire by an apparent  Chinese naval boat off Hoang Sa. He said China set his boat on fire.

Vietnamese Fishing Boat Fired On, Set Ablaze

Indonesia Tries to Douse Fires That Help Fuel Economy

December 2, 2015

Developing nation aims to reel in greenhouse-gas-producing deforestation, which is used to expand plantations

Indonesian men put out a fire in Ogan Ilir, southern Sumatra. The country has moved up the global list of greenhouse-gas emitters. 
Indonesian men put out a fire in Ogan Ilir, southern Sumatra. The country has moved up the global list of greenhouse-gas emitters. Photo: abdul qodir/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Fires consumed a roughly 6.2-million-acre swath of land here this fall, much of it set to expand plantations that drive Southeast Asia’s largest economy and feed global demand for its palm oil, pulp and paper.

That released around 1.75 billion tons of greenhouse gases, potentially bumping Indonesia up to the fourth-largest emitter in the world from sixth place in a span of just weeks, researchers said. The portion of the country’s emissions that come from deforestation is the world’s highest, scientists say.

Globally, the practice contributes to about 11% of climate-altering gases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so addressing it is a key component of any climate deal in Paris, where the role of forests and land use as a contributor to climate change is being discussed.

On Tuesday, Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said her country is cracking down on those responsible for illegally setting fires, the Associated Press reported. “We put law enforcement on the ground. Anybody who is at fault regarding this, they have to [be held] responsible.”

Leading up to the summit, she said the government hadn’t paid enough attention to forest management and supervision in the past.


President Joko Widodo said he was ashamed that authorities failed to prevent the fires, and he ordered law-enforcement agencies to punish perpetrators, including revoking forest concessions and blacklisting those responsible, the AP reported.

Indonesia has lagged behind other countries in preserving forest land while expanding its economy. The palm-oil and pulp-and-paper industries employ several million people and reap billions of dollars of annual revenue in a country that struggles with inequality.

Other major forested countries have improved their records. Brazil, once synonymous with rain-forest destruction for soybeans and cattle, reduced the practice by around 75% starting in 2002, said the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. advocacy group, although the problem has again flared in the past year or so amid growing demand for soy, palm oil and beef. India now plants more trees than it cuts down, and Mexico provides financial incentives for reforestation, the organization said, following periods of massive deforestation in both countries.

Indonesia, however, saw a decline of nearly 15 million acres of primary forest between 2000 and 2012, said a study published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change. In 2012, according to those calculations, forest losses nearly doubled those in Brazil, whose forest area is much bigger.

“Indonesia is the laggard,” said Chris Meyer, senior manager for tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. advocacy group.

Scientists say they believe forests help regulate the climate by taking up and holding carbon dioxide.

Cutting down forests releases stored carbon, which traps heat and contributes to atmospheric warming. Indonesia’s deforestation is particularly worrisome, activists say, because about 20% of it occurs on peat land, which unlocks huge stores of additional carbon.

A complex network of economic interests drives the fires. Environmentalists often blame plantation owners. Plantation owners tend to blame locals. Unclear land ownership can add to the confusion.

Mr. Widodo on Monday signaled in Paris that Indonesia would overhaul the way it manages its forests as he tries to fulfill the country’s pledge to reduce emissions by 29% by 2030, including restoring forests and peat land.

“As a country with one of the largest forest areas acting as the lungs of the world, Indonesia is here today as part of the solution,” he said.

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He said Indonesia would establish a peat restoration agency, though he didn’t provide further details. One plantation owner, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd., on Tuesday said it would invest $100 million over 10 years to expand protection and restoration of carbon-rich peat lands in central Sumatra.

To reduce fossil-fuel emissions, Mr. Widodo said his government would pursue a plan to increase the use of renewable energy to 23% of national energy mix by 2025. He also cited current rules aimed at combating forest clearing, including a moratorium on new development in primary forest and peat land.

The environmental advocacy group Greenpeace said his statement lacked new details or tough commitments.

Rather than dent economic growth, scientists say better land use could bring Indonesia economic benefits. Scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research, a global environmental-research center based in Indonesia, estimate that the economic cost of this year’s fires would likely run into billions of dollars.

“In reality, forest fires bring a lot of health problems, they shut down schools and airports and hurt the economy,” said Andhyta Utami, climate-program director at the World Resources Institute in Indonesia.

But the economic pressures are great. Indonesia produces 52% of the world’s palm oil, used in everything from ice cream to lipstick, an industry whose exports earned $18 billion last year, according to the Center for International Forestry Research.

The country’s Palm Oil Association, whose members have pledged not to deforest, has also warned that any moves to reduce production would set back the country.

Even within Mr. Widodo’s administration, there is resistance. The ministry of agriculture, for example, has raised concerns about a no-deforestation pledge by several palm-oil companies, saying it could hurt small landholders. These sentiments signal a battle ahead.

“The reason fires happen is because people are making a lot of money off of them,” said Louis Verchot, director of environment research at the Bogor-based Center for International Forestry Research.

Write to Sara Schonhardt at




Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo


Indonesia’s fires, smoke and haze — Sky high economic losses to Indonesia’s neighbours

November 11, 2015

By David Fogarty
Assistant Foreign Editor

The Straits Times

Fires across large parts of Indonesia this year for agricultural expansion have proved a very bad investment. Initial government estimates say the fires will cost the country about $47 billion.

That is about twice Indonesia’s palm oil exports last year, which totalled US$17.5 billion (S$25 billion).

Agriculture, particularly to plant oil palms, is a major cause of natural forest loss and annual fires, which are used to clear the land for new plantations by companies and smallholders.

The palm oil sector contributes about 3 per cent of gross domestic product and directly employs about three million people. But no commodity is so important as to justify huge losses right across the economy, such as the health costs of half a million Indonesians who suffered acute respiratory problems, flight and local trade disruptions and economic losses to Indonesia’s neighbours.

The fires have further tarnished Indonesia’s image and international standing and reinforced just how poorly managed its agricultural sector is.

Shocked by the scale of this year’s crisis, and their own level of unpreparedness, the administration of President Joko Widodo has pledged to put an end to the annual fires within three to five years.

To ensure the government succeeds, here are some solutions the administration needs to put into action and by which its action plans should be measured:


Illegality is rife in the agriculture sector, researchers say, yet there are very few prosecutions, providing little incentive for companies and government officials to obey the law.

Late last month, the National Police said they had declared 247 entities as suspects in the fires, comprising 230 individuals and 17 companies. Sixty-two cases were awaiting trial. In the coming weeks, more cases are likely.

The government must ensure all cases are fully prosecuted and those found guilty are punished with fines or jail time, or both. In the past, many cases failed to make it to court or mysteriously never reached a verdict. Non-governmental organisations and the media should monitor all fire-related cases in the coming months to hold the judiciary and the national and local governments fully accountable.

Illegal deforestation and land grabs should also be prosecuted as such cases are often linked to fires.


Indonesia has plenty of laws governing agriculture, land use and the environment. What it lacks is active law enforcement. Cases of illegal encroachment on forest lands, illegal granting of plantation permits, illegal fires, illegal forest clearance on concessions are routinely reported by NGOs but rarely acted on in any vigorous manner by the authorities.

Over the years, millions of hectares of forest land that belong to the national forest estate, which covers about 70 per cent of the country, have been illegally granted plantation permits by local authorities. Many of these areas have also been cleared of trees, with the central government losing billions of dollars in lost timber revenue.

A report last year published by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends cites the findings of a survey by the former ministry of forestry. The survey, released in 2011, found local governments had issued permits to 537 plantation units in forests totalling 6.9 million hectares in three provinces of Kalimantan, without approval from the ministry.

The ministry estimated losses to the state at 158.5 trillion rupiah, or US$17.54 billion at the time.

For Indonesia to fight fires, illegal land grabs and deforestation, it needs to both investigate corruption in the police force and hold the police accountable for failure to investigate illegal acts.


Indonesia lacks a near real-time satellite monitoring system that can detect illegal forest clearance.

Brazil has two systems and backs this up with armed police to raid illegal logging camps or tackle farmers who illegally clear forests on their landholdings.


Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission (KPK) has been successful in snaring former governors and district chiefs involved in illegal land deals. But their work represents a fraction of what could be uncovered.

The KPK, in collaboration with the mining ministry and other agencies, last year conducted an audit of mining permits in 12 provinces. More than 300 permits were suspended because of irregularities.

A similar review is needed for the agriculture sector to formally uncover and name companies and officials involved in illegal land acquisition and illegal land-use practices. The environment and forestry ministry has a long history of corruption in granting plantation concessions. The KPK needs extra resources to bring current and former officials involved in shady land deals to court.


This vital initiative, started under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono but is now largely stalled, needs to be completed. Indonesia’s agriculture sector is a maze of overlapping land claims, contradictory concession maps and unclear land use plans, all of which conspire against tougher regulation and enforcement – but drives a huge trade in illegal land sales and burning.

One Map aims to create a single up-to-date, transparent and publicly available database overseen by the Office of the President. One Map has wide support from business and civil society, but is limping along because Mr Joko and his ministers have prioritised other development objectives, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The map would make clear what land is available and for what use and the areas that are off limits.


According to WRI, a significant portion of the fires start as legal small fires set by farmers to clear their land because it is a cheap, time-tested method. Alternative land-clearing practices could prevent thousands of fires. Mechanical equipment is one alternative but it is expensive. Low-cost financing through local microfinance schemes could bridge the cost gap.

The government should also encourage farmers to grow different crops to further diversify the agricultural sector to reduce reliance on some food imports and boost rural incomes.

All of these solutions would help the government craft a long-term plan to tackle the causes of fires and rein in poorly regulated land use. The government faces tough and costly choices, particularly on banning development in flammable peatlands and restoring large areas of peat already cleared and drained.

But these are necessary if Indonesia is going to ensure a sustainable, climate-friendly agricultural sector for its growing population.

In a couple of weeks’ time, Indonesia will attend major climate talks in Paris.

With the world’s third-largest extent of tropical forests, Indonesia should be a climate hero, using its carbon-capturing forests to help flight climate change. Instead, the Joko administration goes to Paris as part of the problem, not the solution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline ‘Forests burn for lack of law enforcement’.


Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo


Indonesia May Have To Revise Land Burning Laws

November 1, 2015


‘Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate.’ Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images


By Bernadette Christina and Michael Taylor

Indonesia is reviewing laws that allow farmers to burn up to two hectares, forestry officials said, the latest in so-far unsuccessful efforts to halt fires that have sent choking smoke across much of Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is also considering declaring a national emergency over the fires, which this week caused President Joko Widodo to cut short an official trip to the United States and pushed the country’s greenhouse gas emissions above the daily average from all economic activity in the U.S.

A 2009 law allows smallholder farmers to use slash-and-burn practices to clear land for agricultural purposes, and has been cited by green groups and plantation firms as a key cause of the annual fires when the burning gets out of control.

“The problem is that some people take advantage of this exception,” Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, told reporters when asked about the law.

“In our last cabinet meeting, the president assigned us to review a regulation that allows land burning for two hectares.”

Revising the law may need parliamentary support which could delay changes until 2016, said Bakar, adding that the government was therefore considering an emergency regulation.

Forestry experts say the best way to clear forested areas is by tractors, chainsaws or hand tools. These methods are more expensive and time-consuming than fires.

The haze has caused pollution levels across the region to spike to unhealthy levels, and forced school closures and flight cancellations.

Warships are on standby to evacuate infants and other vulnerable residents of haze-hit areas, while other countries have been asked for help to tackle the fires.

The fires, often deliberately set by plantation companies and smallholders, have been burning for weeks in the forests and carbon-rich peat lands of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

“We support our government’s initiative to revise the provisional laws that allow small-holder farmers to clear up to two hectares of forested land by burning,” said Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). “But a multi-stakeholder initiative to support the local farmer and community must be initiated in parallel.

“The key here is to assist the farmers and the community in developing their land responsibly without burning.”

Indonesia usually enters its wet season in October and November, and despite the El Nino dry conditions, rain has been reported in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan this week.


I’ve often wondered how the media would respond when eco-apocalypse struck. I pictured the news programmes producing brief, sensational reports, while failing to explain why it was happening or how it might be stopped. Then they would ask their financial correspondents how the disaster affected share prices, before turning to the sport. As you can probably tell, I don’t have an ocean of faith in the industry for which I work. What I did not expect was that they would ignore it.

A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century – so far.

And the media? It’s talking about the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?

Read the rest:


An orangutan at a rehabilitation center in Central Kalimantan Province, Indonesia. A broad spectrum of wildlife, including elephants, birds and snakes, has been severely affected by the fires, scientists say. Credit Bay Ismoyo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indonesia’s Forest Fires Take Toll on Wildlife, Big and Small

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A disoriented, pregnant orangutan, her treetop home in Indonesian Borneo reduced to charred wood, is rushed to a rehabilitation center by conservationists, who dodged walls of fire and toxic smoke.

Veterinarians care for 16 abandoned baby orangutans already living at the center. The babies had developed respiratory infections because of haze from the fire, delaying the conservationists’ continuing attempts to teach them how to live on their own in the wild.

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Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo



Indonesia Becomes World’s Biggest Climate Polluter — Exceeding China

October 29, 2015

Indonesia peatland burning — Palangkaraya city, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, on Oct. 26.

By Bloomberg

Indonesia’s forest fires have catapulted the southeast Asian nation to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, with daily emissions exceeding those of China on at least 14 days in the past two months.
The nation’s total daily carbon dioxide emissions, including from power generation, transport and industry, exceeded those of the U.S. on 47 of the 74 days through Oct. 28, according to Bloomberg analysis of national emissions data from the World Resources Institute in Washington and Indonesian fire-emissions data from VU University in Amsterdam.
Smog caused by the fires has generated headlines and a diplomatic flare-up between Indonesia and its neighbors in southeast Asia. It’s a threat to human health and has disrupted flights in the region. At the same time, burning trees and peatlands are pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere at a time when more than 190 nations are gearing up to sign a new agreement to stem global warming in Paris in December.
“The problem that we see in Indonesia with essentially unrestrained deforestation going on is a bad message for the world,” Bill Hare, chief executive officer of Potsdam, Germany-based policy researcher Climate Analytics, said in a phone interview. “If we can’t really control deforestation in this region, who’s going to be next? It would be a signal that countries can get away with this kind of deforestation without any real constraint.”
The fires are caused by clearing woodland for paper and palm oil plantations, and have been worsened by El Nino-related dry conditions.

In a satellite record that began in 1997, 2015 is the second worst year on record for emissions from Indonesian forest fires, according to Guido van der Werf, professor of Earth sciences at VU University. It’s unlikely to exceed 1997, which itself was probably worse than any year predating the satellite record, he said.
“We have some confidence in the numbers because by using atmospheric models we can predict, based on our emissions, how elevated concentrations of gases and aerosols will be in the atmosphere,” van der Werf said in an e-mail. “That corresponds reasonably well with what we actually measure in the atmosphere.”
Without including land use changes and deforestation, Indonesia emits about 761 megatons (761 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide a year, according to 2012 data from the World Resources Institute. That works out at 2.1 megatons a day, compared with almost 16 for the U.S. and 29.3 for China.
Indonesian daily emissions from fires alone rose as high as 61 megatons on Oct. 14, according to van der Werf’s data, part of the Global Fire Emissions Database. That accounted for almost 97 percent of total national emissions for the day.
Exceeding China
The daily average emissions for Indonesia, including those of the wider economy, was 22.5 megatons in September and 23 megatons for Oct. 1 through Oct. 28, according to Bloomberg calculations. That’s more than the U.S. average for those two months, based on a typical year, though still short of China. Even so, daily emissions first exceeded those of China on Sept. 8, and most recently did so on Oct. 23.
“Put simply, this is a climate catastrophe,” Nigel Sizer, global director of WRI’s forests program said in an e-mailed reply. “The emissions from these fires are likely to add about 3 percent to total global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities for the year.”
The WRI posted analysis in an Oct 16 blog that showed emissions from the fire exceeding those of the entire U.S. economy.
Indonesia has pledged to cut its emissions by 29 percent from a projected “business-as-usual” scenario by 2030 as part of the new UN deal on climate change. The plan, short on details, includes an unquantified commitment to reduce deforestation. The country already has a moratorium in place on clearing primary forests, and a ban on converting peatlands to other uses.
Failed efforts
“An enormous amount of effort has gone in from different countries to support reductions in deforestation and burning of peat land and it’s really failed,” said Hare.
Van der Werf said it takes 100 years or more to grow trees that will absorb the CO2 released by burning primary forests. For carbon-rich peat soils that have been burnt, the lag is even bigger, he said.
“What is burning in Indonesia is for a large part peat that has accumulated over thousands of years and will not regrow so this is a net source of CO2, just like fossil fuel emissions,” he said. “Unless there is a dramatic change in land management these peatlands will not be restored.”

Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo