Indonesia Facing 'Haze Emergency,' Environmental Group Warns


SEPTEMBER 01, 2015

Jakarta. Indonesia faces an emergency situation over the volume and severity of haze generated by forest fires, a leading environmental watchdog says.

The annual forest fires, typically started during the dry season to clear rainforests for farmland, have worsened over the past 17 years, according to Abetnego Tarigan, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). So pervasive is the problem, particularly on the island of Sumatra, that Abetnego categorized the forest destruction as “systematic.”

At least 66 districts in five provinces – Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra in Sumatra; and West and Central Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo – have regularly been hit by severe fires in the past five years, Walhi records show. A total of 20,253 fire hot spots were detected in those areas last year, up from 18,789 in 2011.

“The government needs to take firm legal action against the companies in whose concessions the fires occur,” Abetnego said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He urged the government to review the permits of concession holders in these areas and also to take measures to rehabilitate areas damaged by fires, mostly in or near concessions earmarked for oil palm plantations.

Musri Nauli, the head of Walhi’s Jambi chapter, said the haze generated by the forest fires posed environment, social and public health threats.

“The forest fires in Jambi cause the loss of a great deal of biodiversity. Many medicinal plants will be lost, and children’s health will deteriorate due to the haze,” he said.