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Jakarta looks to heavens for help JAKARTA - As Indonesia's haze continues to envelop parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces, Indonesian officials have - again - blamed farmers for starting fires across the country.
While the haze occurs here nearly every year, the common refrain among officials is that Indonesia just cannot cope with the illegal fires that are set around this time of the year. The fires are largely lit by farmers and plantation owners to clear tracts and land in preparation for the next planting season.
'During the dry season, local farmers usually clear land using the slash and burn method. It's a tradition and it is hard to stop. We can only hope for rain,' Ministry of Forestry spokesman Transtoto Handadhari was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post yesterday. He did not say whether farmers or others would face sanctions for defying a government ban on setting fires to clear land.
Riau forestry office deputy head Sudirno, who oversees an area just south of Singapore, also said 'heavy rains' would be needed to douse the spreading bush fires. 'It the bush fires are overcome, they will not necessarily be completely extinguished but could even spread to undergrowth in nearby areas,' he told the Jakarta Post. 'So, it's very difficult to put them out unless there are heavy rains.'
From a wider perspective, observers note that Indonesia struggles with rampant illegal logging; environmentalists project that Sumatra and Kalimantan forests will fully disappear within a decade at the current deforestation rate. The current haze is one of the worst since 1997-98, when bush fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan burned out of control for weeks. The haze blanketed Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia with thick smoke.
In the long term, however, the only way to fight the haze is to nab those who start the fires, observers argue. Mr Longgena Ginting of Walhi, a large coalition of Indonesian environmentalist groups, said: 'Forest protection policies can help the smoke issue in the sense that forests that are protected can't be used for farming or development.
'But the haze issue is separate. The only way to solve it is to crack down on people who started the fires, and the government just can't seem to do that. There is little sense in blaming other countries for our failures.' President Megawati Sukarnoputri and other officials have blamed regional countries for receiving smuggled goods, including timber, originating from here.
Yesterday, Indonesia's Vice-President Hamzah Haz said Malaysia and Singapore were partly to blame for the haze, given that illegal logs from Indonesia were smuggled to these countries. Critics also note that Indonesia has never stressed fire prevention but rather short-term solutions on how to tackle fires once a thick haze has spread to neighbouring countries.
Asked yesterday if he thought Indonesia should issue an apology for the haze, he said: 'I don't see the urgency of that. We are focusing on putting out the fires.' He added that the government had deployed 1,800 firefighters to areas in Riau. Some 500 of those personnel are assigned to mobilise mass participation by the local people. But for Mr Longgena, such a response is 'irresponsible' and 'shows short-term thinking'.
He said: 'Why do they only mobilise when the problem has taken place? Why can't the government prevent the fires from starting up in the first place, or stop fire spots when they are still limited in scale? It's not difficult to see where the smoke comes from.'



Posted in Forest fires @ 25 June 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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