The Jakarta Post
The House of Representatives urged the Indonesian government to review next year's state budget to get extra funds, up to Rp 10 trillion (US$714 million), in order to combat forest fires.
House member Herman Khaeron said that the state budget for the Environment and Forestry Ministry was quite insignificant, Rp 6.7 trillion in 2015, and decreasing to Rp 6.3 trillion in the 2016 state budget.
'We need extra funding, at least Rp 10 trillion, to cope with forest fire disasters alone,' Herman told thejakartapost.com on Thursday.
He said the funds aimed to build infrastructure and public awareness through holding training sessions in which local people fully understood how to handle such disasters instead of deploying military or police troops to extinguish forest fires.
'I regret that the government does not seem proactive in preparing for the situation,' Herman asserted, adding that he appreciates the forestry ministry's efforts to provide fire extinguishing equipment.
According to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, around 52,000 hectares of land in Sumatra were ravaged by fire, while 138,000 ha in Kalimantan were scorched.
Herman added that with such mediocre preparation, Indonesia suffered financial losses every year caused by the endless forest fires.
Herry Purnomo, a scientist at CIFOR and professor at Bogor Agricultural University, said that Indonesia would likely suffer $4 billion in losses this year, relating to agriculture production, destruction of forests, health, transportation, tourism and other economic endeavors.
A 2013 World Bank report shows the total financial loss from forest fires in Riau province at Rp 20 trillion ($1.4 billion).
Herry added that Malaysia and Singapore, as smog-affected countries, should be more responsible in dealing with forest fires by issuing regulations and law enforcement for their citizens' companies operating in Indonesia.
'About 50 percent of palm oil companies operating in Indonesia are owned by Malaysians and Singaporeans," Herry asserted.
According to Herry, Indonesia has at least 11 million hectares of oil palm plantation spread across the islands, from Sumatra to Papua.
A number of palm oil companies clear land by burning it in order to reduce production costs, Herry said.
'Lets make a comparison between the cost of mechanized [land clearing] and burning. The first one costs Rp 2 million [$150] per ha and the second one is only $7 per ha,' he said.
Herry added that swidden agriculture had been practiced by farmers in many places in Indonesia for generations and was now adopted by the industry as the best method for cost cutting.
'So, the swidden method has become a policy and common practice for many plantation companies,' he added.
Forest fires and smog have therefore become an annual problem for Indonesians, due to improper practices of plantation companies, Herry said.
Smoke-belching blazes, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season, have intensified in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo over the past two weeks, sending a cloud of acrid haze across the region. (DK) (++++)
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