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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inconsistent policies accelerate forest destruction: NGOs

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 08/13/2009 9:36 AM | National

Environmental groups said Wednesday inconsistency in government policies had played an important role in forest destruction, leading to continual forest fires and deforestation across the country.

The statement was made jointly by Greenpeace, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and Indigenous People’s Alliance-West Borneo (AMAN). Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Bustar Maitar said government policies issued this year were systematically destroying the country’s forests. “Such inconsistent policies have an impact on forest fires and deforestation in Indonesia,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

He said the government had issued a policy to stop illegal logging in Riau in December 2008.

“But, in March 2009, the government issued annual clearing permits for Riau, which then lead to forest fires and deforestation,” he said.

He said in January 2009, the government issued a policy to extend the pulp and paper industry’s time frame to use natural forest timber until 2014.

In addition, under the 2009 ministerial decree, the clearing permit decision-making process was taken over by the central government from the provincial administration. “The issuance of new plantation permits has triggered forest fires, like in Riau, Sumatra and Kalimantan,” Bustar said.

Greenpeace detected 161 hotspots in Riau alone, 532 in Sumatra and 2,012 in Kalimantan on Aug. 4.

Activists from the three organizations staged rallies in concession areas belonging to the country’s oil palm and paper company, Sinar Mas, around Sentrarum Lake National Park in West Kalimantan last week in protest the government’s inaction in stopping the continual forest fires and ongoing deforestation.

“This sensitive region is one of the largest wetlands in the world, the water source for Indonesia’s largest and longest Kapuas river and the main source of protein for West Kalimantan’s 4.5 million people,” Bustar said.

Representatives of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group, also attended the press conference at the Greenpeace office on Wednesday and distributed a official statement from APP regarding the forest fires.

“It is misleading and plainly illogical to suggest that APP and its pulpwood suppliers are the cause of forest fires in Indonesia. In fact, APP has a strict ‘no burn’ policy. Forest fires are damaging to our investments, our pulpwood suppliers’ plantations, and to protected conservation forests.

“We work hard to avoid, detect and contain them,” the statement said, adding that the company spent US$2 million annually on fire management, for pumps, helicopters and fire-fighting training.
In July, it identified 213 forests fires on land belonging to the pulpwood suppliers, 199 of which were caused by illegal forest encroachment by local communities and 14 by illegal logging activities.

The Office of the State Ministry for the Environment found hotspots spread across concessions belonging to 77 companies in Riau in the first seven months of the year.

Greenpeace renewed calls on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to prioritize forest protection to save the forests and help alleviate global warming.

“His promise to the international community to reduce hotspots by 50 percent by 2009 to deal with global warming could fail if President Yudhoyono does not take strict action now,” Bustar said.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dry Season

Here in West Kalimantan we are well into the dry season. While there are some nice things about this time of year - it is easier to get around as the roads are more dirt than mud, and we've has some great fruit harvests over the last month with durian, mangosteen and rambutans all over the place.

But one of the biggest downsides to the dry season is that it also becomes the burning season here. Everyday you can see little towers of smoke dotting the hills from slash-and-burn agriculture. It's bad enough when you think about all that smoke entering the atmosphere, but even worse when you realize that many of the areas being cleared were forests only days before.

In Ketapang, an alarmingly high number of people have respiratory issues. I haven't seen any official statistics, but there are plenty of children and adults that complain of asthma-type conditions. Fortunately this year the fires do not seem to be too great, relatively - perhaps the massive deforestation means less to burn, but the fires are still small enough, that the effects have been relatively mild compared to a few years ago, or our neighbors. About 250 kilometers north of us, forests fires continue to have severe effects on the district capital of Pontianak. The smoke gets so thick that airplanes are often delayed or canceled due to poor visibility, and the pollution causes health problems such as stomach ulcers. Visitors from Pontianak often talk about how nice it is to be able to breathe fresh air here, but every morning, with each new plume coming from the hills, one has to wonder for how much longer that image will last.