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Indonesia

Widodo reverses plan to dissolve peatland agency

Indonesian president bows to pressure from Church, environmental groups

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Widodo reverses plan to dissolve peatland agency

Indonesian firefighters battle a forest fire in Kampar, Riau, on Sept. 23, 2019. (Photo: Wahyudi/AFP)

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo has canceled plans to dissolve the country’s Peatland Restoration Agency following a public outcry and after deciding the body has a pivotal role to play in protecting forests and peatland.
 
The agency was among 18 the president planned to dissolve to simplify bureaucracy and to cut costs amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The 17 other agencies were officially dissolved on July 20.

Established in January 2016, the agency aims to protect peatland from fires and exploitation.

The president’s decision was welcomed by environmental activists, who criticized the government when the agency was originally listed among the doomed agencies.

“I think the president has taken note of people’s opinions and outrage over the many incidents of peat burning each year,” Rico Kurniawan, of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in Riau, Sumatra, told UCA News.
 
Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko had earlier said the agency had performed satisfactorily but its functions could be handled by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency and the Agriculture Ministry.
 
However, environmentalists said the role of the agency was significant and it should be given more time to carry out its role.
 
The agency was established in response to some of the country’s worst forest fires that broke out in 2015. It was tasked with restoring up to 2.67 million hectares of peatland across Papua, Central Kalimantan, Riau, West Kalimantan and South Sumatera.

However, peatland remains under threat from big business.

Kurniawan said that although the agency has not yet met people’s expectations in protecting peatland, it is still needed to curb forest and peat fires.
 
“It has a strategic mission to protect the environment and [indigenous] people’s welfare,” he told UCA News.
 
The advantage it has is that it has a comprehensive structure from ministry to village level.

Sacred Heart Father Ansel Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese’s Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation in Papua, said the move to keep the agency was a good decision.
 
According to Father Amo, the agency’s role will be more significant if it is coupled with the government not granting permits to exploit peatland areas.
 
“We hope the government will ban any kind of investment, including agriculture and plantations, in peatland areas,” the priest said.
 
According to Greenpeace Indonesia, more than 260,000 hectares of peatland are burned every year across the country, destroying ecosystems and adding to climate change.

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