The Jakarta Post
Amid complications in extinguishing peatland fires in large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the government plans to acquire the help of academics and locals and brainstorm solutions for sustainable peatland management.
Among the experts, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo consulted with a number of University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) lecturers, including Azwar Maas, a professor with expertise on peatland management, and UGM rector Dwikorita Karnawati, on Tuesday at the State Palace.
With research dating back to 1974, the UGM team presented a number of feasibility studies, including one conducted between 2014 and 2015, to the President, who was accompanied by a number of Cabinet ministers, including Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono.
Azwar highlighted the importance of 'bringing back the natural function of restoring [underground] water of the peat domes [located under the peat areas]'.
The UGM team also said that comprehensive topographic mapping of peatland was also essential and should be the first step in seeking better peatland management.
UGM forestry expert Oka Karyanto said dried peat was not only prone to fires but also warned that it caused subsidence, saying that Indonesia might lose around 10 percent from the total area of peatland in the country ' mostly in the coastal areas ' in the future.
Dwikorita said that future efforts to prevent fires and peatland damage 'need to be done by integrating [...] social, technical and political aspects' in peatland and plantation management.
Both Siti and Basuki said their offices would follow up on UGM's input following Jokowi's instruction.
'The Forestry Ministry will combine UGM's recommendations and other recommendations and might launch a pilot project for the mapping activities, peat fire prevention and mitigation efforts soon,' Siti added.
Basuki said the government only had about two months for the mapping activities and around eight months to prepare measures to face next year's dry season.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan said that the government had shown great intent in collaborating with experts to find a permanent solution to the peatland problem.
In addition to UGM, Luhut revealed that the government was keen on working with a local Dayak tribe group from Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.
'The government will work with UGM on the peatland conundrum. We will then talk with a team from Central Kalimantan ' part of the Dayak tribe ' about land management in Pulang Pisau, which will become a pilot project for a [nationwide] solution to the problem,' Luhut said on Tuesday.
Luhut previously said after a meeting with the House of Representatives that the government had stumbled on a complication having to do with the extinguishing of peatland fires, which often reignited underground despite the state's best efforts.
Luhut said the El NiÃ±o effect had not been adequately anticipated, resulting in persisting hot spots brought about by a prolonged dry season.
Meanwhile, Luhut said that mitigation efforts to address the haze resulting from such fires had gone quite well. 'We evaluated our mitigation efforts in Sumatra and Kalimantan and the amount of haze has been prominently reduced; around 5 to 10 percent of it remains,' he explained.
Moving forward, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani told reporters that the government would prioritize implementing policies that take account of social and health effects brought about by the haze.
According to her, President Jokowi has instructed that such humanitarian efforts be implemented in concert with mitigation efforts under the coordination of Luhut.
'Handling the social impact and the effects on public health will be a top priority,' she said on the sidelines of the meeting on Tuesday.
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