The Jakarta Post
Despite President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's visit to one of locations affected by forest fires, the problems related to the worsening haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan are unlikely to be solved soon because many agencies do not have enough capacity and financial resources to tackle it.
Wawan Berlinson, the head of the fire agency of Palangkaraya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan, admitted on Monday that it had no money to help extinguish the forest fires that had reached an alert situation.
'We don't have a budget for forest fires, except for fires in residential areas. It would take time if we want to ask approval from the City Council for additional funds [for forest fires],' Wawan said.
The province's Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) had proposed to Governor Hadi Prabowo that he increase the alert status to an emergency status and ask the central government to help tackle the haze problem.
BPBD head Brigong Tom Moenandaz said that, if the alert status was increased, the budget and equipment from the central government to douse the fires could be disbursed.
Separately, Kubu Raya Deputy Regent Hermanus admitted that worsening fires in the regency and Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan, were also caused by methods of burning used for land clearing.
'There is still burning taking place for the purpose of clearing land. We asked people not to do it. Police have also threatened to take stern action,' Hermanus said.
On his visit to the location of a forest fire in Pulo Keronggan village, Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra on Sunday, Jokowi ordered the National Police chief to take stern action against the perpetrators of forest fires.
The inability of the government to tackle the haze caused hundreds of students, activists and environmentalists in Riau, the biggest source of the forest fires, to stage a rally on Monday demanding the environment and forestry minister and their acting governor be sacked.
'They are not worthy of the positions because they cannot seek solutions on haze. If they refuse to step down, just fire them,' the protesters' coordinator Musa Ali Sanda said.
The protesters also gave an ultimatum to the government to get rid of the haze in five days. Otherwise, they would arrive in bigger numbers.
Quoting Article 28H of the 1945 Constitution, Musa said that the government had the obligation to provide the people with a healthy environment.
'We demand the government realize the mandate of the Constitution.'
The protesters also engaged in a brawl with public order officers as they tried to prevent them from entering the governor's office compound.
'We are disappointed that the Riau acting governor did not want to have a dialogue with us,' Musa said.
Executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment's (Walhi) Riau branch, Riko Kurniawan, said he could not understand why the government did not learn from forest and land fires that had reoccurred over the last 18 years.
He also expressed disappointment that the government's approach had not been more than simply providing trillions of rupiah to extinguish fires.
'It's not the concrete solution that the people have been expecting from the government. Yet, it's what the government has been maintaining for the last 18 years,' Riko said.
He said the government had to realize that prevention measures including firmness in policy, law enforcement and peat land protection were much more important than extinguishing fires.
'Hopefully the government will have the wisdom and willingness to look at the root of the problem and not just extinguish fires as if it is an annual project consuming billions of rupiah in funds,' said Riko
Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and West Kalimantan have declared haze emergencies following the worsening forest fires, according to the Environment and Forestry Ministry,
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has allocated Rp 385 billion (US$27 million) to contain the fires through water bombing and artificial precipitation.
For many years, the disaster has been repeated in a similar fashion: in the same provinces and with similar text book measures taken to overcome it amid a barrage of complaints from the people and governments of neighboring countries.
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