Indonesian firefighters battle a forest fire in Kampar, Riau on Sept. 23. (Photo by Wahyudi/AFP)
Environmentalists in Indonesia have demanded a special regulation in lieu of law, known as a perppu, to clamp down on environmental destruction being wrought by forest fires choking vast areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Members of a group calling itself the Coalition of the Indonesian Movement said the regulation — which allows for tougher than usual measures to be undertaken — is needed because people living in these areas “have had their right to breathe clean air taken away by thick haze blanketing their surroundings.”
The fact that such haze is occurring every year, shows the government is failing to manage natural resources, protect citizens and prevent forest fires from reoccurring, the group said.
“To prevent haze in the future and deliver a deterrent to companies [operating plantations on concession land], we call on the president to issue a perppu on environmental crime committed by them,” the group said in a statement.
Companies on plantation concession land are accused of setting fires to clear land to cultivate.
“We want the president to show some leadership and save people from a real menace threatening their lives,” it said.
Coalition coordinator, Chalid Muhammad, told ucanews.com that the special regulation must include a 25 to 30-year ban on the cultivation of burnt concession land, the revocation of licenses of companies whose concession lands were burnt, and an obligation for authorities to rehabilitate burnt land — mostly peatland.
Forest fires can be prevented if these three points are followed.
The fires have triggered health fears among hundreds of thousands of people. Several children have reportedly died due to respiratory problems linked to smoke caused by forest fires.
The government says it is cracking down on firms accused of setting fires with the Environment and Forestry Ministry recently announcing this week that more than 9,000 hectares of concession land operated by 51 companies had been sealed off.
Last week, the ministry announced that concessions operated by five Singaporean and Malaysian companies in West Kalimantan and Riau provinces were also sealed off.
Divine Word Father Fransiskus de Sales Sani Lake, coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Kalimantan, questioned what good sealing off the concessions would do.
“We never know what the results are, and it disappoints us,” he told ucanews.com.