In recent weeks, Indonesia has been in the headlines due to forest fires. Having spread throughout the country in Southeast Asia, the regions of Jambi, South Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi have been severely affected while Riau Province has been the worst hit. According to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), the first eight months of 2019 alone saw nearly 329,000 hectares of land completely scorched. Several provinces in Indonesia have declared a state of emergency.
Forest fires are an annual occurrence in Indonesia, particularly during the dry season in Southeast Asia. Due to extreme weather conditions, Indonesia is prone to drought. Added to this, Indonesian forests are tropical and lie on top of vast reserves of peat. The presence of peatlands leads to fires spreading from forests to the earth itself, making it harder to extinguish flames when the land and weather are dry.
Coupled with this, forest fires are also a result of negligence and malpractice. As reported by Al Jazeera, palm oil companies have been accused of igniting fires to clear the land. The BBC adds that farmers often use a “slash-and-burn method” in dry forest conditions to “clear vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations.”
Forest fires should provide lessons for Indonesians over the negative impact that such disasters have on humans and the environment. The regular presence of wildfire will undoubtedly affect human health, particularly with respiratory infections (ARI). According to the BNPB, there were nearly 920,000 people suffering from ARI between February and September alone. Besides that, forest and land fires also cause the immune system to become weaker, which could open the door to a host of other health issues. The raging fire also damages the ecosystem in the forest and the destruction of flora and fauna.
The Indonesian government has laid out guidelines on dealing with forest fires. Jakarta has encouraged central and regional governments to work together in tackling the situation. The BNPB was also asked to create artificial rain for deployment in certain areas. In addition, the government intends to take strict action against those accused of intentionally burning forestlands. Finally, the state is taking precautions in certain regions to ensure that fires do not spread further. This government response should be appreciated, but there are three additional steps that can be taken.
The first is pre-disaster. The purpose of pre-disaster planning is to get Indonesian citizens working together with the government to take preventive measures against potential forest fires as early as possible. The aim is to educate the community about the importance of forests for the environment and, in turn, our lives. In addition, with the central government taking the lead, Indonesia should ban companies or individuals from using fire to clear land. If such planning and policies are in place, then the impact of forest fires can be minimized.
The second step is during a disaster. When a forest fire spreads, the government and the community must work together in combating the roaring flames before they get out of hand. This may sound simple, but the method of extinguishing forest fires in Indonesia needs to be reexamined to reduce the risk of such a devasting impact. In addition, to minimize casualties, the government should fully prepare health services with the necessary resources in dealing with cases involving the respiratory tract. This is especially the case considering the detrimental effects that fire can have on human breathing and vision.
The third step is the post-disaster recovery. Here, the government should make moves to replant trees. At the same time, it must hold those accountable who have deliberately burned forestlands. The government must be firm in its actions to ward off any future crimes against nature.
If these measures can be implemented to help preserve forests, then Indonesia could once again be seen as an environmentally-conscious country.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.