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Jakarta Post

Govt backtracks on unrealistic peatland restoration

  • Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, December 8, 2015   /  05:11 pm

Provided with a limited allocation from the state budget, the government may only have the capacity to restore less than 5 percent of the total peatland area burned this year, allegedly by both small and large holders of plantation concessions.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has estimated that this year'€™s forest fires, the worst since 1998, has destroyed around 2.6 million hectares of land, with 53 percent of it located in peatland areas. If disturbed, peatland can become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

'€œWe have to be realistic in proposing something. If we are provided with more funds, we could restore more than 5 percent of the destroyed peatlands,'€ the ministry'€™s environmental pollution and damage control director general, Karliansyah, told The Jakarta Post.

Last month, Vice President Jusuf Kalla confirmed a plan to restore at least 2 million hectares of peatlands destroyed by decades of unscrupulous practices by small and big concession holders. The restoration costs are estimated to top Rp 50 trillion (US$3.6 billion) over five years.

However, Karliansyah said that restoring a mere 5 percent of burned peatlands would cost taxpayers up to Rp 30 trillion and may take five years to complete, highlighting the astronomical cost and impact of forest fires to the environment.

'€œSo we'€™ve calculated the cost to block canals and restore the vegetation. We'€™ve also calculated the cost to hire staff members to manage the water gates to the canals, as well as the cost to increase people'€™s awareness of forest fires,'€ he said.

Karliansyah added that the government has excluded concessions owned by big holders from the 5 percent restoration program.

'€œThe 5 percent is located in areas managed by smallholders, not companies,'€ he said.

Firms whose areas have been burned by the recent fires will have to bear the responsibility to restore their lands using their own money, according to Karliansyah.

'€œEven though the regulation states that the burned lands could be taken over by the state, the responsibility [to restore the lands] is still with the companies,'€ he said.

Between January and October, forest fires allegedly triggered by the clearing of lands for oil palm and pulp plantations had killed a dozen people in Sumatra and Kalimantan and hospitalized thousands. Smoky haze from the fires had also chocked people in Singapore, Malaysia and some part of Thailand and the Philippines.

The ministry'€™s director general for law enforcement, Rasio Ridho Sani, said that so far the government had not forced companies whose areas were impacted by the forest fires to restore their lands.

'€œWe have not yet ordered them to restore the land, but we are trying to do that through civil lawsuits. There'€™s already one company, PT Kalista Alam, which should serve as a precedent,'€ he said.

Rasio was referring to the recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court, concerning the case of a forest fire in Aceh, in which Kalista was directly liable for the burning of 1,000 hectares of the Tripa forest.

The forest lies within Sumatra'€™s Leuser Ecosystem, the only place on earth where tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and orangutans can be found living together in the wild.

The court ordered the company to pay Rp 114.3 billion in compensation and Rp 251.7 billion to restore the affected areas of forest.

In the future, Rasio said that the government might not have to wait to file a civil lawsuit in order to force a company to restore its burned land as it can deploy administrative sanctions to do so.

Rasio said that firms might be forced to restore their lands using their own money as this was already stipulated in the environment law.

The regulations would be strengthened further with a government regulation on peatland restoration currently being drafted by the government.

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