The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) is setting up regional posts to accommodate complaints from the public related to losses caused by forest fires.
The posts will be set up at district levels in five provinces: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan. Each post will be equipped with doctors and academics that will record health, ecosystem and social losses caused by the man-made disaster.
“This is a new breakthrough. Usually we sued companies that caused fires without submitting data on loss experienced by the public. This time we will include the data to sue not only the companies but also regional and central governments for letting the companies cause the fires,” said executive director of Walhi, Abetnego Tarigan, in a press conference called “Where There are Concessions, There is Smoke” at Walhi headquarters in South Jakarta on Tuesday.
So far one post has been set up in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, and it has been operating for a week.
Walhi notes at least four types of losses are caused by the draining of high carbon stock peatland for agriculture use, the root reason for forest fires. They are losses to ecosystem balance, social and health, which lead to economic losses.
The director of Jambi Walhi, Musri Nauli, said that Jambi residents could no longer easily find native semah river carp in peatland waters in addition to some species of herbs and edible vegetation due to the destruction of peat forests.
Nauli said that there were 700,000 hectares of peatland in Jambi, 20 percent of which had been drained and burned by industry.
“As the peat dries, water supplies decrease and water quality is also affected because seawater easily gets into the land. For this reason, most people living around the peatland in Jambi consume bottled water instead of the natural water enjoyed in the past,” Nauli remarked.
Seawater contaminated land plus drier land due to oil palm plantations and climate change had shifted the planting season and caused harvest failure on Jambi farms, he said.
“Oil palm does not create groundwater supply as they don’t absorb rainwater,” Nauli said.
He went on to say that haze from the fires had also affected many businesses.
“Sailors and those working in river transportation cannot sail because of the haze.”
The haze has also caused 1,250 Jambi residents to suffer from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) every week from June to September last year, according to Nauli.
During the press conference, Walhi also presented data on fire locations in 2014. As many as 4,084 hot spots were detected in plantation concessions owned by 150 companies while 603 hot spots were detected in natural forest concession land owned by 85 companies in 66 regencies in the five provinces.
The Center for International Forestry Research recommended the government make detailed concession maps available to the public to allow third parties to monitor activities within concessions.
When asked to comment on the recent “zero deforestation” pledge signed by the giant five palm oil companies in Indonesia, Abetnego said that, “We appreciate the initiative but the government has to supervise the implementation in the field because their subsidiaries still tell locals to burn the land for them.”