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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid