Indonesia: Govt Neglects People's Right to Health in Dealing With Wildfires

Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 8 Sep 16;

Jakarta. The government has been negligent in the way it managed public health risks associated with forest burning, because it mainly focused on extinguishing the fires, a human rights watchdog said.

According to government data, the annually recurring problem of land and forest fires afflicted more than half a million people with health problems in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan last year. At least 23 have died as a result.

Members of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) observed the situation last year and concluded that the government had violated citizens' right to health.

There has been no thorough examination by the government of the definite impact of haze on human health, which is needed for recovery efforts, Komnas HAM commissioner Siti Noor Laila said.

"For instance, there has been no comprehensive explanation on what diseases haze-affected people could expect to develop in the future," Siti said during a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday (08/09). "Medical staff should have been conducting ongoing research."

The number of people suffering from respiratory infections as a result of wildfires in Riau province has continually increased over the past three years, according to data Komnas HAM obtained from local nongovernment organizations.

More than 43,000 people were diagnosed with respiratory disease last year, compared to around 27,000 in 2014 and nearly 20,000 the year before.

"Millions of people are at risk of developing serious diseases if preventive efforts by the government remain minimal," Komnas HAM commissioner Sandrayati Moniaga said. "Some have already died and there should be no more casualties."

Described by observes as the worst on record, last year's wildfires also destroyed vegetation on millions of hectares of land and resulted in financial losses worth billions of dollars.

Komnas Ham to Evaluate Effectiveness of Law Enforcement in Forest Fire Cases
Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 8 Sep 16;

Jakarta. The National Commission on Human Rights, or Komnas HAM, will evaluate the effectiveness of law enforcement in Indonesian forest fire cases over the past decade, amid public controversy over premature termination of investigations into some cases, the human rights watchdog said on Thursday (08/09).

Citing lack of evidence, the Riau Police terminated their investigations into 15 out of 18 plantation companies that are reportedly responsible for the 2015 forest and peatland fires. Three companies were brought before the court.

"It is clear that companies should be held responsible if fires occur within their concession areas," Komnas HAM commissioner, Siti Noor Laila, said.

"Whether the land is burned intentionally or unintentionally, the companies should abide by the regulation," she said referring to the 2015 presidential instruction on the improvement of management of forests and peatland.

Under the instruction, regional administrations are ordered to instruct plantation companies to have the requisite facilities to prevent land and forest fires, as poor compliance was the major cause of rampant forest fires, with some companies lacking even the most basic equipment to manage forest fires.

Despite facing protests from environmental activists, police have defended their move to terminate investigations saying that the fires occurred on disputed land. Therefore, those who should be held responsible remains unclear, since blame cannot be attributed.

"We will evaluate law enforcement in cases of wildfires, including the termination of their investigations. Law enforcement in such cases tends to be discriminatory," another Komnas HAM commissioner, Sandrayati Moniaga, said.

Land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan were an annual recurring problem in the country over the past decade.

Described by observers as the worst on record, the wildfires last year destroyed vegetation on millions of hectares of land, afflicted more than half a million people with health problems and resulted in billions of dollars in economic losses.

Meanwhile, activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) have launched their own investigations into the cases and filed new police reports against the 15 companies. Walhi has found that three of the 15 companies have also been implicated in cases of illegal logging, but the police have terminated their investigations in 2008.

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