Posts Tagged ‘pulpwood’

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



Haze Crisis: Indonesia arrests seven company executives for illegal forest fires

September 17, 2015


A man prays as he bathes in the Ogan River amid haze in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia on Sept 16, 2015 PHOTO: EPA

Indonesia:  Jakarta pledges to step up enforcement and expand cloud-seeding efforts

Indonesian police nabbed seven corporate executives on Wednesday (Sept 16) in connection with illegal forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan, as part of a wide-ranging effort to arrest the haze crisis.

Suspects from the latest bust included a senior executive from Bumi Mekar Hijau, a unit of Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which is also Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper producer.

The national impetus, revealed on Wednesday, includes deploying more police to help with firefighting and handling probes against culprits, and increasing cloud-seeding sorties to douse the blazes, especially those burning on dry peatlands.

These carbon-rich peatlands produce the thick haze that has blanketed many parts of Indonesia, as well as neighbours Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks, bringing the air quality down to unhealthy and sometimes hazardous levels.

The government’s pledge to step up enforcement and expand cloud- seeding operations, as air pollutant levels improved owing to the rain yesterday, raises hope among millions affected by the haze.

Several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan have been ravaged by forest fires in recent weeks because of the dry season, which was exacerbated by the El Nino effect.

A weather phenomenon, El Nino reduces rainfall in South-east Asia, resulting in hot and dry weather, which causes forests to burn more easily. But Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said sporadic rain in recent days may offer respite while the presence of clouds facilitates cloud-seeding.

“We understand the El Nino will last until late November, but a weather anomaly has developed – we had rain north of the equator line,” said Mr Willem Rampangilei.

The BNPB chief was speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday after a meeting on the forest fire and haze crisis with President Joko Widodo.

“Cloud-seeding is not effective if there are no clouds at all, but we expect the clouds to increase in the coming days,” he added.

National police chief Badrodin Haiti told reporters yesterday that he has deployed 682 officers, including 68 investigators, to affected areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, to reinforce firefighters and soldiers already on the ground.

The Straits Times understands that the national police have identified firms such as Bumi Mekar Hijau for environmental crimes.

A senior executive from the South Sumatra-based firm, identified by his initials JLT, was arrested yesterday morning and is currently being interrogated.

An APP spokesman, responding to queries from The Straits Times, said last night it was “not aware of any new formal police charges against any of our suppliers at this time”. She maintained that APP has operated a “zero burning” policy in its supply chain since 1996.

Senior members from six other companies accused of similar offences were also picked up yesterday for questioning, General Badrodin added. Bumi Mekar Hijau, which has pulpwood concessions in Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, is still facing trial for a separate civil case in the Palembang.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry had previously demanded that Bumi Mekar Hijau pay 7.8 trillion rupiah (S$780 million) to the state for damages from burning land. If found guilty again this time, the company’s management could be jailed for up to 10 years.

This year, provincial police units in the six areas affected by the haze have been investigating 24 companies and 126 individuals for breaching environmental laws.

According to figures from Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, estimates show 52,000ha of land in Sumatra were ravaged by fire, while 138,000ha in Kalimantan were scorched. However, the number of hot spots recorded thus far this year remains fewer than that recorded last year, said the BNPB.

Smoke and Haze From Indonesia Chokes Singapore

September 15, 2015

Smoke and Haze Hides Singapore

Burning forest in Ogan Komering Ulu. Reuters photo

Poor law enforcement, corruption, unclear rules on land use hamper probes: Observers

In a matter of weeks, Indonesia’s haze crisis has exploded despite pledges by President Joko Widodo and some provincial governments to maximise efforts to prevent fires from engulfing large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

But accurately identifying those behind many of the fires is far from simple. It is easy to blame big plantation companies because of the large areas they control and, at times, because of the large numbers of hot spots recorded on their lands.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo

But the situation is far more complex. For big plantation firms, fires are their top concern because the blazes destroy crops.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and environment experts say there are many actors involved but also point to investigations being hampered by poor law enforcement, corruption and unclear rules on land use.

“Studies of fire and haze in Kalimantan and Sumatra firmly point towards small-scale farmers and other under-the-radar, mid-scale landowners rather than large companies as the main cause of fires and haze,” wrote Dr Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist of the Borneo Futures initiative, in a recent commentary in the Jakarta Globe.

During a visit to Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province, The Straits Times saw many small grass fires on a trip outside the city.

The fires could have been started by local farmers, fishermen wanting to clear access to streams and illegal loggers.

Evidence shows that the majority of fires usually occur outside timber, logging and oil palm concessions and that farmers are partly to blame. Complicating the picture further is that many pulpwood concessions have communities living inside them. In some cases, transmigrants illegally claim a piece of land by clearing it using fire and then planting crops – particularly in protected forest areas.

Indonesian law allows farmers to clear forested land using fire, provided the area cleared does not exceed 2ha.

“We have seen largely two types of actors involved in fires in Sumatra,” Mr Aditya Bayunanda, WWF Indonesia’s Forest Commodity Market Transformation Leader, told The Straits Times yesterday.

“First of all, people are actively setting fires to clear lands, often as part of grabbing new lands. Land-grabbing has recently been increasing inside protected areas as much of Sumatra’s lands had been leased to companies. Such illegal encroachments are often sponsored by companies, financiers or even government officials,” said Mr Aditya, who is also a member of Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of local NGOs.

Second, he said, oil palm and pulp plantations prime the landscape for fire by opening up lands, particularly flammable peat lands.

“Such fires can occur through various causes, for example, (being) set deliberately by people who have conflicts with the companies,” he said.

Mr Achmad Santosa, who was in charge of monitoring law enforcement under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told The Straits Times yesterday: “The environment law says companies must douse a fire within their concessions, regardless of where the fire started.

“There are companies that do not meet the requirements to have adequate fire-fighting systems. This must be regularly audited and followed up,” he said .

Government officials privately say companies pay off prosecutors and the police. Officials and NGOs also say some companies pay third parties to start fires to avoid being directly linked. Local communities are then blamed.

Some companies also take advantage of Indonesia’s lack of a unified land-use map, meaning there is often confusion and conflict over how land can and should be used. This makes it easier to illegally clear land and avoid prosecution.

The Global Forest Watch (GFW) programme, run by Washington-based World Resources Institute, produces daily analyses on the fires in Indonesia. Between Sept 7 and yesterday, GFW’s analysis of accumulated hot spots for that week showed 48 per cent of fires were outside pulpwood, logging and palm oil concessions. Of the remainder, 48 per cent were on pulpwood concessions and 3 per cent on oil palm concessions. This, though, does not mean the companies started the majority of the fires.

Researchers at the Centre for International Forestry Research in Bogor, near Jakarta, say it is essential that the government understands the political economy around land use and the risk of formulating policies based on incomplete, erroneous or misinterpreted fire data.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline ‘Tough to pinpoint haze culprits’.