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

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs