Indonesia: Locals to be hired to stop forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 3 Mar 16;

The government is introducing a new strategy to combat the forest fires that plague the country annually by encouraging local residents to engage actively in land forest fire prevention. Volunteers will be trained in fire prevention.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Willem Rampangilei said people living in forest fire-prone areas were rarely actively involved in mitigation efforts, and indeed often faced the blame for the fires.

“Local people can play a pivotal role in mitigating forest fires because they are more likely to have the opportunity to react promptly when a disaster strikes,” Willem told a media conference on Wednesday. “We have to involve them so they can protect their own villages.”

Local people, he went on, had in fact expressed willingness to prevent forest fires, but had been held back by a lack of facilities, especially equipment and water resources.

“As such, local people’s ability to prevent fires is limited, and their efforts have not been well coordinated,” Willem said.

In order to increase the capabilities of local people, the government will first determine standard procedures, in conjunction with local authorities. The government, with the regional governments at the helm of the program, will then recruit local people and organize them into task forces, according to Willem.

“They will be trained by the regional governments, the Indonesian Military [TNI] and the police,” he said. “They will then be provided equipment.”

The training program will be funded from the state and local budgets, as well as contributions from businesses. The program is also open to international support.

“The rest of the funding is from international donors. One that has spoken to me is the World Bank, which has pledged US$12 million,” Willem said.

If the combined funding from the local budget, private sector and international donors could not cover the total cost of the program, Willem said, then the central government would make up the shortfall.

“This year, we have Rp 4 trillion [$300.7 million] of on-call budget derived from the state budget,” he said, adding that Rp 49 billion had been used so far to respond to flooding that has hit a number of regions since the beginning of the rainy season.

Besides involving local people in forest fire prevention, the government is also mulling giving financial incentives to villages that prevent fires from happening in their area.

“The amount [of the incentives] is up to the regional governments to decide, but the latest assumption is around Rp 100 million,” Willem said.

The private sector began a similar initiative in 2014. The program, dubbed “Fire-Free Village”, is conducted by paper and palm oil companies, including Asia Pasific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) group, Musim Mas, Asian Agri and Wilmar.

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