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Indonesia Pavilion at COP26: Time For Action Indonesia

Indonesia Pavilion at COP26: Time For Action Indonesia

From 31 October to 12 November, the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) located in Glasgow, Scotland. COP26 aims to accelerate climate action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC. COP26 is important because this decade is the last opportunity for us to scale up climate action to achieve the 1.5-degree goal.

In order to welcome this grand agenda, civil society organizations, Madani Berkelajutan Foundation, Walhi, Kemitraan, and LTKL took part in the Indonesian pavilion at COP26.

One of the activities that will be held is a discussion with the theme Inclusive And Collaborative Climate Action Under The Next Generation Leaderships: NPS Contributions to Long Term Development Strategy, On Tuesday, 9, November 13.20 to 14.40 WIB.

In this discussion, a number of presenters were present, namely the Executive Director of the Partnership, Laode Muhammad Syarif, Adat Women Leaders Ammatoa Kajang Community, Ramlah, Prokilm-Social Forestry of Nagari Sirukam West Sumatra, Selfi Suryani, Head of Gorontalo District, Prof. Nelson Promalingo, Adat Youth Leaders from Dusun Silit West Kalimantan, and Duayam x Krealogi, Hanna Keraf.

Register yourself to take part in the event at the following link

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New Normal and Plastic Excise

New Normal and Plastic Excise

Understanding is too shallow if the “new normal” only means the limited application of health protocols such as wearing a mask or just washing your hands using soap. However, far from that new normal should be interpreted as a fundamental movement to change old habits that previously had a bad impact, into new habits that are not harmful.

One of the old habits that must be immediately abandoned in the new normal scenario is related to the use of disposable plastics. What’s with disposable plastic? 

It is undeniable that during the pandemic, or especially when working from home (WFH) and Large-scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) recommendations are carried out, increasing the amount of plastic waste in the community is increasingly worrying. 

The results of studies from the Center for Oceanographic Research and the Indonesian Institute of Knowledge (LIPI) mention WFH as well as various recommendations to carry out activities at home during the pandemic, instead of making the use of disposable plastic in the community increased sharply than usual. 

In a study entitled “The Impact of PSBB and WFH on Plastic Waste in the Greater Jakarta Area”, it was revealed that the main cause of the increase in the amount of plastic waste was because people were increasingly diligent in online shopping. 

How not, activities carried out at home each encourage people to forego conventional shopping transactions and switch to online in order to minimize COVID-19 exposure. People who usually shop online 1 to 5 times a month, increase to 1 to 10 times a month during the recommended move at home. 

In fact, 96 percent of packages sent by sellers to consumers is wrapped in thick plastic even added with bubble wrap as additional protection. In the Jabodetabek area it self, the amount of plastic waste from packages resulting from online shopping far exceeds the amount of plastic waste from packaging. 

Nevertheless, the results of this study also revealed that public awareness of the issue of plastic waste is fairly high. For example, 60 percent of respondents thought that the use of plastic wrap did not reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. This is certainly in accordance with the research that says that COVID-19 can survive on plastic surfaces for three days, longer than other surfaces such as cardboard or stainless steel. 

However, again, this high level of public awareness has not been accompanied by concrete actions to reduce disturbing plastic waste. It cannot be denied that during the pandemic, environmental issues were not highlighted as strategic and important issues to be executed immediately. All of that is because attention and concentration are heading towards the epicenter, called health and the economy. Thus, the notion that the use of disposable plastics will be far more efficient, because they can be discarded immediately, so as to minimize the possibility of exposure to the virus – this becomes a pseudo-truth that is trusted and followed during this pandemic. 

Not only during the implementation of activities at home during the pandemic, in the transition period of the PSBB, or in the new normal period, the use of disposable plastics is also increasingly prevalent. For example, when I joined the prayer Juma’s congregation in one of the mosques that use the COVID-19 protocol. The mosque caretaker even distributed plastic bags to worshipers who were present to wrap sandals or shoes they were carrying. The step was taken to minimize the spread of COVID-19 through footwear worn by worshipers. 

The Essence of Plastic Excise 

The more widespread use of disposable plastic, especially plastic bags, the higher the threat of the danger of plastic waste to the environment and life. It is well known that the problem of plastic waste is not only a problem of Indonesia but has become a global problem which until now is still difficult to handle, as it is difficult to decompose plastic. 

To curb the rate of use of plastic bags, in 2019 the Indonesian government issued a policy of imposing an excise tax on plastic bags. The excise tax scheme is IDR 30,000/kg or IDR 200/sheet of plastic bags. The excise value is relatively cheap when compared to several other countries such as Denmark with an excise tax of IDR 46,763/kg, South Africa with IDR 41,471/kg, Malaysia with IDR 63,503/kg, Taiwan with IDR 84,239/ kg, Cambodia with IDR 127,173/kg, the Philippines with IDR 259,422/kg, and Ireland with IDR 322,990/kg. 

Excise itself can be understood as a state levy imposed on certain goods which have properties or characteristics that have a negative impact; this is certainly already stipulated in the Excise Law. 

The higher the value of the excise tax on plastic bags, the more it proves the seriousness of a country to face the impact of pollution due to increasingly worrisome plastic. Prior to the application of plastic bag excise tax in Indonesia, Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati had calculated the impact of inflation which was said to be very small at 0.045%. Sri Mulyani also mentioned assuming that 53 million kilograms of plastic consumption per year, the country has the potential to receive revenue of IDR 1.6 trillion from plastic excise. 

The income will certainly increase considerably if the value of the plastic excise tax is increased. The increase is certainly very relevant: simply put, people will choose to pay for a plastic bag that costs IDR 200 more than buying a non-plastic or non-disposable shopping bag whose price is far above that price. As a result, the excise tax that is applied with the aim of holding back the rate of use of plastic bags will only add coins to the country without being able to achieve the original goal of reducing or even eliminating the habit of using disposable plastic bags. 

Therefore, it would be nice if the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a momentum to remember the importance of the environment by reducing or even eliminating the bad habit of using disposable plastics. 

A new normal application should not just be orderly and obedient in using a mask and washing hands with soap, but starting a new life by forming new habits that are more useful. Previously, the community was not sensitive to maintaining health, so it was normal to advocate better health. Likewise, with plastic, if previously we always used disposable plastic, then just teach how it is now normal to abandon the habit. Such is the essence of the new normality itself. 

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The Palm Myth and Public Welfare

The Palm Myth and Public Welfare

In the midst of the increasingly troubling Covid-19 pandemic, WHO (World Health Organization) in the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe instead made it uneasy by saying that unprocessed palm oil products were consumed. Through an online campaign, WHO published articles related to palm oil, each entitled was “Nutrition Advice for Adults during Co-19” and “Food and Nutrition Tips During Self Quarantine”.

Both articles contain health information and tips on eating food during the Covid-19 pandemic. In an article titled “Nutrition Advice for Adults during Covid-19“, WHO recommends that during the Covid-19 pandemic to consume unsaturated fats (such as those found in fish, avocados, nuts, olive oil, soybeans, canola, flower oil sun, corn) compared to consuming saturated fats (such as meat, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, cream, cheese, ghee, and lard).

Meanwhile, the article entitled “Food and Nutrition Tips During Self Quarantine” contains a call to reduce consumption of foods such as red and fatty meat, butter, fatty milk products, palm oil, coconut oil, coconut oil, and lard.

Because of this, Indonesia was also inflamed, through the Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mahendra Siregar, Indonesia formally submitted the objection letter to WHO Indonesia representatives. For Indonesia itself, the campaign will certainly have a negative impact on the economy because palm oil is the queen of the economy itself.

Palm Economy

It cannot be denied that palm oil is one of the pillars of the national economy. Palm itself is the biggest foreign exchange supply commodity for the country so far. The contribution of foreign exchange palm exports even had reached a record high in 2017 which reached USD 22.9 billion or around Rp320 trillion. The value of Indonesia’s palm oil foreign exchange contribution during 2018 also reached US $ 20.54 billion or equivalent to Rp 289 trillion.

Based on this value, it is certain that palm oil plays an important role in supporting the national economy. Not only about foreign exchange, the potential tax revenue from the palm oil industry is estimated to reach Rp 45-50 trillion per year.

Because palm oil is a contributor to the rupiah coffers with fantastic value, it is natural that this commodity gets the red carpet. In fact, until now palm cannot be separated from a myriad of complex problems.

The Community Economy in Palm Area

However, the assumption that palm oil is prosperous, seems to need to be reviewed more comprehensively. The reason, the notion that palm oil is no more than a mere myth. Related to this, in research conducted by Madani Bekelanjutan in two provinces that are rich in palm oil, namely the Provinces of West Kalimantan and Riau, it was found that there is a sharp inequality. In fact, the massive expansion rate of palm oil is not directly proportional to the improvement in the welfare of the village community. In fact, there is no place other than the village that can accommodate palm oil to grow and produce. Then, why the village is not prosperous?

Based on Village Development Index (Indeks Desa Membangun/IDM) of the Ministry of Villages, the Development of Disadvantaged Areas and Transmigration (Kemendes PDTT) and the existence of palm oil plantations in the village, Madani Berkelanjutan found that only 3 percent of villages were classified as independent villages in West Kalimantan. Then, 6 percent is classified as a developed village and 31 percent is in the developing category. While 48 percent of villages occupied by oil palm plantations are classified as underdeveloped villages and 11 percent are even classified as villages that are very underdeveloped.

Meanwhile, only 1 percent of villages in Riau are classified as independent villages. Then, about 6 percent of villages are classified as developed villages, 64 percent as developing villages. While villages that are classified as disadvantaged villages are as much as 27 percent and 3 percent are classified as villages that are very underdeveloped.

This fact is certainly very ironic. In the midst of the pride of many parties for such a large palm oil, it turns out the results are not as big as what is imagined. In fact, palm oil does not really provide welfare for the public. Whereas all this time, palm oil has been cultivated as an excellent commodity for the country’s economy.

The low welfare of the public in terrain areas with palm is also allegedly due to the large ownership of oil palm from private companies. In fact, of the 14.3 million hectares of palm oil plantations in Indonesia, the majority is controlled by private palm oil companies. Noted, an area of 7.7 million hectares (ha) or 54% of the total area of palm oil land in Indonesia is controlled by private companies. Then, palm oil land owned by the state through State-Owned Enterprises (BUMN) reached 715 thousand ha or 5%. The remaining area of smallholder plantations reaches 5.8 million ha or 41% of the total area.

Judging from the performance of produced palm oil, private companies are arguably the most resilient in production, with a capability of 26.5 million tons or 51%, state plantations of 2.5 million tons or 6%. While community plantations contributed 14 million tons of CPO or 33%.

With this relatively large number, it is natural that the government and many parties provide extra support to the palm oil industry in the country. Even the government is ready to put on a body when palm oil gets negative sentiment from the European market. It is also not wrong if many say that the government’s attitude towards palm oil commodities is interpreted as a form of gratitude for the Indonesian government to business people who are involved in the national palm oil industry. Obviously, all of that is because oil is so profitable.

With the largest land tenure and production capability, private companies are clearly the biggest beneficiaries of palm oil. Meanwhile, the size of the people’s ownership of the palm oil did not contribute greatly to the prosperity of the village because it could be that the oil palm owned by the smallholders was sold at a low price to middlemen or many other causes.

The low level of welfare of oil palm farmers can also be caused by the amount of farmers spending in the production process is greater than the income received from the selling price of production. This means that the addition of planting areas is not an absolute requirement in an effort to improve the welfare of the palm oil farmers.

In fact, differences in ability and market access make palm oil tend to be enjoyed by a small number of people. Therefore, it is natural that there is no correlation between the increasingly widespread and the size of the palm oil industry with the welfare of the community. It is appropriate that the welfare of the people from palm oil is just a myth.

By: Delly Ferdian

Researcher in Madani Berkelanjutan

This article was published in the June 12, 2020 Independent Observer.

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Job Creation Bill, Covid-19, and Indonesia’s Climate Commitment

Job Creation Bill, Covid-19, and Indonesia’s Climate Commitment

Initially, President Joko Widodo was recorded as having mentioned the postponement of the Omnibus Law’s Job Creation Bill through his Twitter account. However, the post was taken down and replaced with a statement that the government would postpone the discussion of employment clusters only from the Job Creation Bill. (CNNIndonesia, 28/04) It also means that the discussion on the Job Creation Bill will continue. The government’s reason to postpone the discussion of the cluster is to explore the substance and accommodate more inputs from various parties. In fact, this bill that was publicly rejected was inseparable from problems from many perspectives such as the environment.


At first, I thought, the government had good intentions to hold the discussion of the Bill. The reason is that the discussion of the bill, which is so controversial in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, was considered unethical by many parties. This is due to the fact that the Job Creation Bill, which seizes concentration, seems to hamper acceleration in the handling of a pandemic, which is increasingly undermining. 

In the current situation, working together against Covid-19 is a priority. All elements of the nation are now being tested, stakeholders are tested with policies and speed of handling, the private sector is tested to remain meticulous in utilizing opportunities, while the public is tested to comply with established health protocols. It seems appropriate, if building collaboration is key to overcoming the Covid-19 challenge. 

Associated with Covid-19, Worldometers noted that the positive number of Covid-19 cases worldwide had reached 4,101,975 patients. Of the 4.1 million Covid-19 cases, 280,451 have died. While the number of positive Covid-19 patients who had recovered reached 1,441,873people. (worldometers, 10/05/2020, 13.40 WIB) 

Meanwhile, based on data from the Task Force for the Acceleration of Covid-19 Handling, the positive number of Covid-19 in Indonesia reached 13.645 patients, while 959 people died, and 2.607 people were declared cured. (09/05/2020) 

From the economic side, the increasingly massive spread of COVID-19 is turning the global economy into a freefall. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) calls the current world economic conditions the worst since 1930. The IMF also mentioned the risk of economic recession will continue until 2021 if stakeholders in various countries fail to respond to a pandemic with appropriate policies. 

For Indonesia itself, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that Indonesia’s economic growth this year will only reach 2.5 percent. The figure is certainly very realistic, it could even be that growth does not reach that number, there is almost no economic sector that is not affected by Covid-19. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani herself revealed that in a severe scenario, economic growth this year could only reach 2.3 percent, while under severe conditions the growth would enter the negative zone. 

Climate Turning Point 

Even though the world is getting crowded because of being consumed by Covid-19, however, this is not the case with the earth which is getting more relieved because the air is getting fresher day by day. It cannot be denied that the massive spread of Covid-19 is directly proportional to the reduction in air pollution in the world. 

Based on reports from researchers in New York on air quality (3/29/2020), it was noted that carbon monoxide, especially from motor vehicles, especially cars, was reduced by almost 50% compared to last year. The decline in global economic activity together with an increase in the intensity of the Covid-19 pandemic exposure, has become the driver of improved world air quality. 

Improved air quality has also been felt by residents of the Capital City of DKI Jakarta since the recommendation of working from home echoed by the government. A rare phenomenon is the clearer sky of the capital city, crowded with people and viral on social media. Not only the capital, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (LAPAN) also stated that air quality in Indonesian regions, especially western regions, such as Sumatra, Kalimantan, and also the island of Java, became cleaner in March 2020 compared to the same period the previous year. 

In fact, Covid-19 has succeeded in removing the earth’s saturation of pollution into a new spirit of improving air quality. It feels right, if the momentum of improving world air quality is called the turning point of the world’s climate. 

Climate Commitment and Dangers of the Job Creation Bill 

So far, the improvement of the quality of the world’s climate is almost called a Utopian dream. Because the lack of commitment and sectoral ego that is so strong from many countries that should be the vanguard and most responsible for climate damage, is a problem. The failure of the global climate change conference organized by the United Nations or the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid, is proof that many countries are increasingly ignorant of climate change. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres expressed his disappointment at COP25. Gutteres revealed that the conference was tiring, spent almost two weeks, and drained a large budget, in fact only resulted in political compromise over global events that are now happening. 

Indonesia itself has a climate commitment that is manifested in the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target of 29 percent emission reduction by its own efforts, and 41 percent with international support. However, Indonesia’s climate ambitions are threatened with failure due to the dangerous potential of the Job Creation Bill. 

Madani Berkelanjutan projects 5 big possibilities that occur to Indonesia’s natural forests and climate commitments as a result of the implementation of the Job Creation Bill. Firstly, five provinces in Indonesia, they are Riau (2032), South Sumatra and Jambi (2038), Bangka Belitung (2054), and Central Java (2056). Secondly, Seven Provinces namely South Kalimantan and Jambi (2020), West Sumatra (2030), West Kalimantan (2032), Aceh and West Nusa Tenggara (2038), and Central Kalimantan (2056), are threatened with loss of natural forest outside the Indicative Map area Postponement of Granting New Permit (PIPPIB). 

Third, the NDC target is threatened not to be achieved. If the average deforestation rate of 688,844.52 hectares per year occurs linearly until 2030, the NDC target of reducing deforestation will fail to be achieved with a deforestation quota of 3,250,000 ha in 2020- 2030 exceeded by 2025. 

Fourth, the opportunity to save 3.4 million hectares of natural forest which is currently in the palm oil permit in the momentum of the palm moratorium will be lost. Fifth, natural forest cover in the 45 largest watersheds in West Papua in 2058 is threatened to fall by 0-20 percent if the Indicative Map of the Social Forestry Area (PIAPS) and PIPPIB fails to be protected. 

The five possibilities must certainly be a concern and consideration for many parties who until now continue to want to boost and pass the Job Creation Bill which turns out to be more a disadvantage than a benefit. Moreover, the fact is, the climate crisis has become one of the triggers for the emergence of various types of dangerous diseases, one of which is Covid-19 or maybe even other viruses that will appear in the future. 

So, is the Job Creation Bill still worth discussing? In my opinion, it is still not enough to save Indonesia by delaying the discussion of the bill as a whole, let alone delaying just one cluster. Remember, Indonesia is the key to saving the world climate.

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Indonesia Braces for Return of Fire Season as Hotspots Flare Up

Indonesia Braces for Return of Fire Season as Hotspots Flare Up

Teguh Surya, executive director of the environmental NGO Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan, said he was confident the BRG was doing its job, but that there was no way for the public to verify whether it was having any effect.

JAKARTA — Forest fires are underway in Indonesia as the rainy season tails off, marking the return of potentially widespread burning that threatens to once again blanket parts of the country in a toxic haze and belch out huge volumes of carbon dioxide.

Authorities reported that fires had flared up in the two Sumatran provinces of Riau and South Sumatra, and in the Bornean provinces of West and Central Kalimantan. Twenty-three of the 90 hotspots recorded across the country were in West Kalimantan, where thick smoke blanketed the provincial capital Pontianak and disrupted flights.

In Riau, one of the hardest-hit regions during the particularly disastrous 2015 season, fires have razed 6.4 square kilometers (2.5 square miles) of land, an area double that of New York’s Central Park.

All four affected provinces have declared a state of emergency. This will allow them “better access [to resources] to combat forest fires,” including firefighters and funding from the central government, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

The state of emergency in Riau and Central Kalimantan will run until May, while in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan it will be maintained until October and December, respectively.

Threat to Asian Games

Authorities are particularly concerned about the return of the fire season this year, when Indonesia will host tens of thousands of athletes and visitors for the Asian Games that run from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2. The event will be co-hosted by Jakarta and Palembang, the capital of fire-hit South Sumatra.

The selection of Palembang as a host city has long been deemed risky, given the propensity for fires in the region. Forty-four percent of land and forest fires in Indonesia since 2011 have occurred in the provinces of South Sumatra, Riau and Central Kalimantan, according to analysis by the think-tank World Resources Institute (WRI).

Nearly all these fires are human-caused, sparked in large part by slash-and-burn clearing of forests to make way for oil palm and pulpwood plantations. The draining of carbon-rich peat swamps, rendering them highly combustible, also serves to accelerate the spread of fires and intensifies the burning and haze. Combined with the onset of the dry season, the fires can quickly grow out of control and spread.

This year’s dry season for the southern region of Sumatra is expected to take hold from June until September, coinciding with the Asian Games. It’s during this period that the fires will intensify, Sutopo said.

The threat has compelled President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to instruct all authorities to prepare for the worst.

“Don’t let this event be marred by haze and forest fires that will hurt [our] image and disrupt flights,” he said in a meeting in Jakarta in early February. “We have to work hard so that the Asian Games run smoothly without any problems from forest fires.”

He also repeated a warning he first made in 2016 to fire officials from the military and the police to be on top of their game.

“If there are fires in your regions and they’re not handled well, the rule is still the same: dismissal,” Jokowi told the officials gathered at the meeting.

Preventive measures

Some safeguards have been put in place since 2015 to prevent a repeat of the devastating fires that year that razed huge swaths of land and generated some of the worst haze on record. Smoke from the fires sickened half a million Indonesians, per government estimates, and drifted into neighboring countries. At the height of the disaster, the daily emissions of carbon dioxide as a result of the burning exceeded those from all U.S. economic activity.

Among the fire-prevention policies that have been issued since then are a nationwide ban on clearing peatlands; the establishment of community-based fire prevention initiatives; and a requirement for companies to protect and preserve carbon-rich peatlands that fall within their concessions.

The government also plans to restore 20,000 square kilometers (7,720 square miles) of drained peatlands across the country by 2020. The idea is that rewetting the peatlands will make them less likely to catch fire.

To lead the nationwide efforts, Jokowi established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in early 2016. By the end of 2017, the agency had overseen the rewetting of 2,000 square kilometers of peatland, half by itself and the other half by NGOs and companies.

Environmental activists have questioned the effectiveness of the BRG’s work, citing a lack of transparency.

Teguh Surya, executive director of the environmental NGO Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan, said he was confident the BRG was doing its job, but that there was no way for the public to verify whether it was having any effect.

“For the restoration work to be effective, the location has to be on point,” he said. “Who determines the location, and what’s the [restoration] method? If the determination of the location is done carelessly, then it’ll fail. The president has to check: if the peatlands have been rewetted, where are they located?”

This year already, there have been fire reports in at least two areas that the BRG claims to have restored. One is in Lukun village in Riau province, where fires have been burning since Feb. 9. The BRG says the fires are not in areas where it has blocked peat drainage canals, but instead are located in nearby sago plantations.

The second report of fires is also in Riau, in the village of Mundam, where the BRG has built 12 canal-blocking units, according to Teguh. BRG head Nazir Foead was scheduled to visit the area on Feb. 23 to verify the report.

As part of its wider plans, the BRG says it is in the process of checking the fire-prevention infrastructure it has already built, to gauge whether it’s working as intended, Nazir said.

“We’ll fix them immediately if there’s anything broken,” he told Mongabay at his office in Jakarta. “And we’ll see the fire spots and how far they’re located from the rewetting infrastructure that we’ve built. If the infrastructure is deemed insufficient, then we’ll build more.”

In an attempt to monitor the progress of peat restoration efforts in the country, Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan and other NGOs and think tanks, including WRI Indonesia, have set up an online platform called Pantau Gambut, which features an interactive map onto which various data points can be overlaid. These include hotspots, oil palm and pulpwood plantations, and the BRG’s own map.

“Without adequate public monitoring, it’s impossible for the [peat restoration] target to be achieved because there’s no sense of ownership,” Teguh said.

Lessons from 2015

Rewetting peatland is a far more effective means of tackling the fire issue than deploying firefighters to put out blazes once they start, Teguh said. He pointed to the biomass- and carbon-rich nature of peatland that made it particularly combustible, as well as the remote location of much of Indonesia’s peat forests that make it virtually impossible to contain the spread of fires, as was the case in 2015.Firefighters sent to put out the blaze in Lukun village faced this problem too, according to Raffles B. Panjaitan, the director of fire mitigation at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Just to reach the location required traveling several hours by boat.

“With no clean water, they had to use water from the peatland,” Raffles said in a statement. “And they had to walk for about 1.5 kilometers [1 mile] from where they were staying to reach the fires.”

Elim Sritaba, the director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which operates vast pulpwood plantations, said the company faced a similar experience when dealing with the 2015 forest fires. APP, Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper producer, was blamed for much of the fires that enshrouded the region that year.

In anticipation of this year’s fire season and the threat it poses to the Asian Games, Elim said APP would focus its attention on Ogan Komering Ilir district, a peat region in South Sumatra where the firm has invested in a massive new pulp mill.

“We’re also increasing our investment. Our fire department asked for a $2 million increase in budget,” she told Mongabay at her office in Jakarta. “They wanted to increase the number of patrol towers and we also wanted to install cameras in some high-risk spots.”

Elim said the company had not been prepared for the sheer scale of the fires in 2015, which she said came from outside APP’s concessions and were supercharged by strong winds and the El Niño weather cycle.

“In 2015, the wind was so strong and because it was dry, the wind turned into a cyclone,” she said. “By the time the fires came [to our concessions], they were 2 kilometers [1.2 miles] in width and 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] in height. And the fires were circling. So our fire experts told us that not even the best firefighters could extinguish a fire that big, only God could.”

Source:, February 26, 2018.

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How Local Elections Could Ruin Asian Games in Palembang

How Local Elections Could Ruin Asian Games in Palembang

Teguh said fires were still looming large in South Sumatra – where peatlands are concentrated in Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies — partly because there had been no signs of significant peatland restoration by the BRG in the province.

The city of Palembang in South of Sumatra will co-host the Asian Games from August to September and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ordered his aides and regional officials to focus on preventing the worst thing that could happen in the province at that time: major forest and land fires.

The haze resulting from raging fires would seriously disrupt the prestigious sporting event and put Indonesia’s reputation as the host on the line.

While the number of land and forest fires has significantly decreased in the past two years, with Jakarta issuing a number of fire prevention policies following the deadly 2015 fires, scientists say we may still need to worry that major fires could occur at around the time of the Games.

One of the reasons is that the country will be holding regional elections in June, only two months before the Games kick off.

Riau and South Sumatra were the most affected by recent forest and land fires on Sumatra. This year, the two provinces and some municipalities and regencies within them are set to elect new leaders.

The problem is that law enforcement against the people responsible for forest fires will be compromised during regional elections, said Herry Purnomo, a Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist.

This was the conclusion he made based on a study he conducted with fellow CIFOR researchers in 2015.

“Regional leaders tend to ease law enforcement against perpetrators who happen to be their constituents in order to secure votes in the election,” said Herry, who is also a professor at the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB).

The study found that the occurrence of major forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, two islands rich with peat swamp forests prone to fire, during the 2000-2015 period, had coincided with regional elections in the two areas. “This is my foremost worry,” Herry said, referring to the potential for lax control over those who start fires during ahead of and during the regional elections.

In general, people have become more knowledgeable about fire prevention, especially by not clearing land for agricultural purposes by setting fire to it. Smallholders have begun complying with regulations, while big companies have started to meet their sustainability obligations as they fear having their business permits revoked.

However, Herry said the stern approach had less of an influence on another group of culprits: middle-scale farmers, who can be found across Sumatra, including in South Sumatra.

“This group is not daunted by the threat that faces big companies. They don’t fear a legal case if they clear land with fire because basically they are not registered as legal entities,” Herry said.

In the aftermath of the 2015 fires, which ravaged 640,000 hectares of forest and land in South Sumatra alone, attention was centered on the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), established by Jokowi to restore 2 million ha of peatland by 2020 in seven provinces, including the province.

However, experts have said there has been no significant progress in peatland restoration efforts, blaming BRG’s lack of authority on the ground, especially in dealing with companies that some experts claim have allies in line ministries.

“Restoring peatland to its wet condition is a significant aspect in fire prevention,” said Teguh Surya, a researcher with the Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan, an NGO that focuses on forest and land management.

Teguh said fires were still looming large in South Sumatra – where peatlands are concentrated in Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies — partly because there had been no signs of significant peatland restoration by the BRG in the province. He added that the agency had never publicly revealed how much peatland it had restored there.

South Sumatra and Riau, meanwhile, have begun preparing for potential forest and land fires this year, mostly related to fire mitigation efforts.

The South Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has requested additional helicopters from Jakarta to be used to extinguish fires, while the Riau administration has considered declaring a state of emergency in the province to anticipate possible fires this year.

“South Sumatra has only five helicopters, which is insufficient. Moreover, the province will host the Asian Games in August, which could the one of the hottest periods [in 2018],” South Sumatra BPBD head Iriansyah said in December last year as quoted by Antara.

Palembang will host 10 sporting events, including women’s soccer, men’s soccer, basketball, a triathlon, shooting and sepak takraw competitions. (ahw)

Source: The Jakarta Post, February 14, 2018.

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