Posts Tagged ‘peat burning’

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.


Fires in Indonesia Again Belching Out Smoke and Haze

August 26, 2016

Indonesia: Hot spots from forest and land fires in Indonesia’s Riau province double overnight

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

By Arlina Arshad — Indonesia Correspondent
The Straits Times

Satellites have detected 17 hot spots from forest and land fires in Indonesia’s Riau province on Friday (Aug 26), more than double the number overnight, as strong winds send acrid smoke north-east towards Singapore.

The National Space and Aviation Agency of Indonesia (Lapan) satellites detected only seven hot spots in the province the day before, Indonesia’s disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

The fire-control task force on the field, however, reported 67 hot spots, with 44 concentrated in the Rokan Hilir district, he said, adding: “Dense smoke was billowing from the hot spots.”

Separately, Mr Sutopo told The Straits Times that dry conditions, sporadic rains, and common incidents of illegal land clearing by burning in the past week were causing the spike in the number of hot spots.

“The wind is carrying the smoke from forest and land fires in Riau north-east to Singapore. The concentration of smoke observed is still quite thin,” he added.

The typical wind pattern during the dry season in Riau had “always been feared” to bring the smoke from the province to Singapore, as had occurred in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Sugarin, head of the Pekanbaru branch of the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency, told The Straits Times the wind pattern is unlikely to change during the dry season, which peaks in September.

He added that the wind is also blowing strongly at 10 to 15 knots, but that air quality and visibility are “still good”.

“With hot and dry conditions coupled with strong winds, fires can spread easily,” he said.

However, he said the fires are still under control and the “haze will not be bad like last year”.

Millions of people in South-east Asia were affected by thick smoke from fires that covered many parts of the region in the second half of last year.

The crisis almost brought Indonesia to the brink of a national emergency.



Smoke, Haze and Air Pollution Harmful to Human Health: Singapore has served notice on Indonesian companies — “We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem.”

July 3, 2016


JAKARTA (AFP) – Singapore is refusing to back down in its pursuit of those responsible for haze-belching forest fires in South-east Asia last year, despite struggling to bring the perpetrators before the courts and drawing a sharp rebuke from neighbouring Indonesia.

Forest fires are part of an annual dry-season problem in Indonesia, started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land for cultivation – particularly for palm oil and pulpwood.

But last year’s haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke and forcing school closures as pollution reached hazardous levels and thousands fell sick across the region.

Singapore has served notice to six Indonesian companies it believes may have cleared land by burning but could target others as investigations continue, according to Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia Anil Kumar Nayar.

“We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem,” he told AFP in an interview last week.

However, the city-state’s efforts to punish Indonesian companies under its own anti-haze law have become a flashpoint with Jakarta.

Singapore argues that international rules allow states to take action – even if harm is being caused by activities outside its jurisdiction – but Jakarta has questioned how Singapore could pursue Indonesian citizens for prosecution, especially in the absence of a ratified extradition treaty between the neighbours.

The latest sabre-rattling came after Singapore issued a court warrant in May to detain a director of an Indonesian company linked to the haze while he was in the city-state.

Afterwards, Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that she would be reviewing her ministry’s cooperation with Singapore on environmental issues.

“Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia’s legal domain,” Bakar told reporters in June. Her spokesman declined to comment further on the matter when contacted.

Nayar reiterated that Singapore wasn’t crossing any line pursuing these companies and was within its rights to enforce its law.

“We are not doing something that is extraordinary. It is not targeting any country, or anybody’s sovereignty,” he said.

The law threatens local and foreign firms with fines of up to S$100,000 for every day Singapore endures unhealthy haze pollution.

So far just two of the companies have responded to the court order, Nayar said, without naming specific firms.

Singapore has repeatedly asked Indonesia for details about companies – such as maps showing who owns what concessions – but says Jakarta has not provided any information.

Singapore would “continue to press”, Nayar said, but added the evidence needed to prosecute these companies could be found by other means.

“We could go that way as well, but at the end of the day this is part of a legal process. We want to be working with the Indonesian government,” he said.

One of Indonesia’s main arguments is that a regional approach to solving the haze crisis would be more effective than individual action.

“They (Singapore) know our view on this, on how we can best address this issue of haze through the Asean mechanism,” ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told AFP.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has an agreement to create a haze-free region by 2020, though it took 14 years to be fully ratified.

Nayar says regional progress on curbing haze has been slow.

Fellow Asean member Malaysia, which also suffers during the haze outbreaks, has expressed interest in adopting its own law similar to Singapore’s to pursue errant companies.

Jakarta has promised tougher action in the wake of last year’s haze disaster, which turned skies yellow in Indonesia’s part of Borneo island and dealt the economy a US$16 billion blow.

The government announced in May it would no longer grant new land for palm oil plantations, and established a new agency to restore millions of hectares of carbon-rich peatlands susceptible to fires.



Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images


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


Image may contain: one or more people

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


South China Sea: Singapore Hopes To Help Resolve Troubles Between ASEAN, China

February 28, 2016

Minister says Singapore has its work cut out in trying to de-escalate tensions in S. China Sea

Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan at the South-east Asia Venture Capital Summit on Jan 25, 2016. Photo by Alicia Chan, The Straits Times

By Nirmal Ghosh Indochina Bureau Chief in Vientiane
The Straits Times


Singapore has its “work cut out” as coordinator of Asean-China relations, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said on the eve of a visit to China, given the situation in the South China Sea.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is due to fly to China today, told Singapore media on the sidelines of the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat that the Republic, being a small country, firmly adheres to the concept of a rules- based world order.

“In other words, we cannot have a world in which might is right,” he said in Vientiane. The ministerial retreat is the first of several Asean meetings to be held in Laos, the grouping’s chair this year.

Dr Balakrishnan’s remarks came just days after China deployed missiles and fighter jets to an island in the disputed Paracel chain, and the United States hosted Asean leaders to a summit which expressed concern over increasing militarisation in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire sea, but several Asean countries – most critically Vietnam and the Philippines – also claim parts of it.

“Clearly with developments which are going on on the ground in the South China Sea right now, this is an area of concern,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “I think we will have to continue this discussion with China. It is something which we are going to have to work very hard on.”

Asean countries have been encouraging strict adherence to international law for the peaceful resolution of conflicts or differences, with full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, he added.

“One area we have to focus very much on is the formulation of the Code of Conduct… (and) steps which will hopefully de-escalate tension and prevent any accidents or inadvertent escalation of tension and incidents at sea. I’m afraid we have our work cut out for us,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who chaired yesterday’s discussions, said the ministers “remained seriously concerned” about developments in the South China Sea.

Some ministers, he said, were concerned over land reclamation and escalation of activities in the area which had “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region”.

He added that the ministers had reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation and flight, and emphasised self-restraint and the resolution of disputes according to international law.

The ministers also called for a focus on implementing the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties signed by Asean and China, the precursor to a long-delayed Code of Conduct (COC) which Mr Thongloun said they hoped could be formulated in a “speedy manner”. China has been dragging its feet on the COC, which will set guidelines for parties involved in disputes to manage tensions and avoid conflict.

The retreat was otherwise largely an agenda-setting meeting for Asean, which has seen since Jan 1 the technical implementation of the Asean Economic Community.

Laos, as Asean chair, proposed a focus on implementation of Asean’s Community Vision 2025, including trade facilitation, narrowing development gaps, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, tourism and connectivity, and decent work promotion.

Mr Thongloun said the ministers had discussed “emerging non-traditional security challenges such as terrorism, cyber security, natural disasters, climate change, irregular migration, trafficking in persons, and maritime security”.

Singapore made a pitch for cooperation on cyber security, said Dr Balakrishnan.

“We are going to convene a cyber security conference in October; we hope to see full participation by Asean partners,” he said.

The best way to deal with regional transboundary security threats was to “work together, to share intelligence, to make sure our enforcement agencies are able to work in a coordinated fashion so that we can deal with these problems”.

He said Singapore also “made a pitch to operationalise the Asean haze-monitoring system, as well as the coordinating centre for dealing with the transboundary haze, which will be sited in Jakarta”.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline ‘Coordinating Asean-China ties is no easy task: Vivian’.