News / Asia

Indonesia Battles Raging Forest Fires, Takes Heat On Transboundary Haze

FILE - An aerial view of smoke rising from burnt trees during haze in Indonesia's Riau province, June 28, 2013.
FILE - An aerial view of smoke rising from burnt trees during haze in Indonesia's Riau province, June 28, 2013.
Kate Lamb
Forest fires in the Indonesian province of Riau continue to rage a week after a state of emergency was declared. From Jakarta, the central government makes efforts to fight the flames - and the thorny issue of transnational haze.
 
Over the past week, the government has employed water-bombing planes and cloud seeding in an attempt to control the fires roaring through Riau’s forests, but a reported 8,000 hectares remains engulfed in flames.
 
Speaking from Riau’s capital of Pekanbaru, Sutopo Nugroho, the spokesperson for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said conditions could worsen. Nugroho said that the prolonged dry spell in the lead up to summer could intensify the blazes.
 
Without sufficient action to extinguish the current fires, he said, these conditions are also likely to have a negative impact on food and energy supplies.
 
Over the past week, huge swathes of land have been destroyed, flights have been delayed and schools shut down. The levels of haze have also caused a spike in respiratory illnesses.
 
Riau province, on the island of Sumatra, is a major palm oil producer and, despite a zero burning policy, forested land is regularly cleared through illegal burning to make way for new plantations.
 
Yuyun Indradi, from Greenpeace Indonesia, said forest fires in Riau are a recurring problem and one the government has failed to seriously crack down on.
 
“Actually to monitor the hotspots is very easy because there is a free platform to monitor the hotspots that the government can use.  But it’s a matter of political will and its seriousness to deal with this,” said Indradi.
 
Indradi said hotspots in Riau were first identified in satellite images this January, but the government failed to take immediate action.
 
Annual forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan are becoming increasingly problematic not only for Indonesia, but for its neighbors as well.
 
Palm oil and timber plantations here are also operated by Malaysia- and Singapore-based companies; Indonesia has been reluctant to take all the blame.
 
However, last year, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was forced to apologize to neighboring Singapore and Malaysia after they were blanketed by thick haze and smog.
 
A shift in wind direction, which usually occurs now - at the end of the monsoon season - is likely to see the smog looming again.
 
After facing nearly $1 billion in financial losses from the haze last year, Singapore has decided to take matters into its own hands, drafting its own bill on transboundary haze.
 
If passed, the proposed law will allow the government to fine companies responsible for the fires and ensuing haze up to $300,000.
 
Climate change and sustainability specialist Fitrian Ardiansyah said the proposed law could help tackle the source of the problem.
 
“If you just catch those that trigger fires on the ground, mostly they are just farmers, or poor contractors or something like that. If you get really companies or whoever is financing them it will be providing good signals to the market as well as to the sector itself that this is a serious issue, and it needs to be addressed seriously by governments involved in the region,” said Ardiansyah.
 
The bill targets foreign companies as well as those based in Singapore, but it may be difficult to prosecute those outside of the city-state.
 
Ardiansyah pointed out that the proposed law must also be matched by regional collaboration and strong measures from the Indonesian government.
 
Indonesia is the only country yet to sign the ASEAN treaty on Transboundary Haze, a legally binding agreement that obligates countries to cooperate on open burning and monitoring prevention efforts.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid