Experts from Indonesia call for early preparation against haze in future

FRANCIS LAW Today Online 24 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — The worst of the haze crisis may be over for now thanks to rain, but experts from Indonesia said pre-emptive measures must be taken to prevent such calamities from happening again, such as by declaring a state emergency for the whole of Indonesia, and preparing peat land so that they do not catch fire.

Delegates from the worst-hit provinces in Indonesia shared their stories of how Indonesians suffered on the ground at a seminar organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) yesterday (Nov 23).

According to the SIIA, the amount of haze-related deaths in Indonesia reportedly stands at 19, and over half a million people have been treated for acute lung infections. Panellists agreed that the Indonesian government needed to step up their efforts against parties responsible for the forest fires.

Singapore suffered one of its most severe and prolonged periods of haze this year, stemming from forest fires in Indonesia which were made worse by an absence of rain from the El Nino effect.

Mr Feri Irawan, an activist from Sawit Watch Jambi, said that his group had been pressuring the local government to be stricter and to have more concrete plans to deal with the problem.

Country Director for World Resources Institution Indonesia Koni Samadhi said that the Indonesian government has a standard operating procedure in the case of forest fires, but a state of national emergency must to be declared, to allow the government to fully mobilise the resources needed to manage fires. This year, only selected provinces declared states of emergency.

Mr Koni also said the Indonesian government must to work more systematically to “improve land use governance”. “We do need to have a more coordinated action across the ministers to improve the governance,” he added.

The delegates also expressed concern for infants and pregnant women living in the affected areas. According to Mr Irawan, over 200 infants from the affected areas are still suffering from respiratory problems and many pregnant women have been hospitalised due to haze-related issues. His team is currently pushing for free healthcare for these two groups.

Peat fires were another matter of concern for the panellists as such fires are almost impossible to put out, and can burn for long periods of time. Furthermore, Indonesia currently lacks the technology to put out such fires.

Mr Maturidi, a journalist with Kalteng Pos, a local newspaper in Central Kalimantan, said that the fires this year were only put out by rain. It is common for farmers to use peat land for plantations due to its fertility. But dry peats are highly flammable and plantations are prone to catching fire if peats are not kept moist.

While there is still no solution to putting out peat fires in Indonesia, Mr Irawan said he was glad that the government had stopped giving out permits for plantations on peat land.

Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA, who moderated the discussion, said that canals or dams would be able to provide peats with a constant supply of water to keep the peats moist and prevent fires. He said: “Once the fire does start, then you’re talking about pouring an endless supply of water into the peat.”

He also said he found Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s efforts, including his three-year target to combat the haze problem, commendable. He said: “I think President Jokowi truly is of the attitude to deal with this problem. Everything I have seen of him, and his team around him, convinces me that he will really try.”

Reforms Must Persist To Prevent Repeat Of Haze Crisis
Bernama 25 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE, Nov 25 (Bernama) -- While clear skies have returned, the impact of the recent haze lingers, and for many Indonesian families in the country's worst-hit provinces, the damage is irreversible, according to the panellists at a public seminar, here.

"Two deaths were reported in Jambi, while 200 infants suffered from respiratory problems. Many pregnant women were hospitalised during the haze, and their newborns might also be affected," said Feri Irawan, an activist from Indonesian non-governmental organisation, Sawit Watch Jambi.

Titled "Fighting the Haze: Insights from Indonesia's Worst-hit Provinces", the seminar organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) on Monday drew about 120 participants.

Besides damage to public health, education has also suffered. "The haze is very dangerous, so for two months, the schools in Central Kalimantan were closed," said Maturidi, senior editor with the Kalteng Pos newspaper.

The frequent disruption was simply not good for the students' learning progress, added Prayoto, a former section head in the Forest Management Unit of the Provincial Forestry Service of Riau.

Further, many villagers whose crops had gone up in smoke were also struggling for their livelihoods now, they said.

"We hope this seminar will bring the plight of the most-affected Indonesians closer to Singaporeans. It is also crucial that we include their perspectives and suggestions in the policy-making process," said SIIA chairman Simon Tay, who moderated the session.

Many attendees found the seminar useful in shaping their understanding of the haze issue, including Dr Charles Lee, a lecturer from Australia's University of Newcastle.

"It is important that we learn the true costs and realities faced by those on the ground before we work towards solving the issue together," he said.

While the Indonesian government under President Joko Widodo had shown serious attempts at stopping the fires, "steps must be taken to deal with the issue more systematically and structurally," said Tjokorda Nirarta "Koni" Samadhi, Indonesia's director for American think tank, World Resources Institute.

He called for more data transparency and better land use policies as Indonesia works towards preventing another haze crisis.

More coordinated action between governments at the federal, provincial and district levels was also needed, he said.

On the same day, the SIIA also hosted a closed-door working group meeting to gather experts' input on issues including the accuracy of concession maps which are currently publicly available, the usefulness of community maps and the legality of publishing unofficial maps.

Earlier in May, the SIIA launched the Haze Tracker, a web portal that aims to inform the public and interested stakeholders on the latest developments of the issue.

The institute has also convened two editions of the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources (SWR), which features best practices in green production, procurement and financing in ASEAN's resource sector.


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