Palm oil fires rage in Indonesian Borneo

Palm oil fires rage in Indonesian Borneo

Palm oil fires rage in Indonesian Borneo

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Every year during the dry season, rural Indonesia literally goes up in smoke due to the illegal burning of forests for palm oil plantations. This year’s fire season is one of the worst ever.

During a field visit to Central Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo, last month, I visited the heart of the fires, and witnessed apocalyptic scenes like the one in the photo at the left. 

Today, WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia has put out a press release announcing the results of an analysis, showing that, across four Indonesian provinces, two company groups, Wilmar Group and Sinarmas Group, were responsible for the greatest number of fires. WALHI’s full press release follows.

— Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Campaigner, FoE US

Corporate fire traces: Corporate liability for environmental impacts and recovery

Jakarta, October 1, 2015. Today WALHI issued the results of the analysis of land and forest fires that show the role of corporations, particularly in the forestry and plantation sectors, in the smoke tragedy that took place in recent months in Indonesia. This analysis also showed traces of fire of the companies’ groups, especially focused on five provinces that suffered the most severe effects, namely Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

Land and forest fires for 18 years is an indisputable fact, in which the monopoly of the forest area and land for development of investment is a major cause of fire and smoke pollution in Indonesia. Until the year 2014 alone, four (4) sectors of the extractive industries (logging, oil palm plantations, pulpwood plantation, and mining) has covered about 57 million hectares of forest and land in Indonesia. This monopoly has been coupled with bad practices in the management of concessions, one of which is the burning of forests and peatlands for land clearing so that it is suitable for commodity planting.

Deforestation has been carried out massively and systematically, and is followed by drying of peatlands by splitting apart the peatland and building canals. Land clearing is done by burning which aims to save operating costs, as well as to reduce the acidity of peat, making it suitable for planting crops for industrial commodities. This practice essentially has been destroying forests and peatlands that ecosystem loses its natural balance.

For years hotspots have been found in large-scale monoculture plantation concessions, mainly operating on peatlands. In the period January – September 2015 there were 16,334 firespots (LAPAN) or 24,086 firespots (NASA FIRM) in 5 provinces: Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Sumatra, and Riau. From the analysis of the data and facts on forest and land fires in 5 provinces, until September 2015, it is found that firespots was in the concessions of company: 5,672 in Central Kalimantan, 2,495 in West Kalimantan, 1,005 in Riau, 4,416 in South Sumatra, and 2,842 in Jambi.

Edo Rakhman, Campaign Manager of WALHI National Executive explained, “The results of the analysis of the worst five provinces hit by the smoke, namely Riau, Jambi, South Sumatera, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan showed that the majority of fires are found in this year in the concessions of company, especially the Industrial/Pulpwood Plantation (HTI) as many as 5,669 fires and oil palm plantations as many as 9,168 hotspots. Results of the overlay of hotspots with companies’ concessions showed that in four provinces (Jambi, South Sumatra, Riau and Central Kalimantan), the company group Wilmar and Sinarmas are most found to contribute to the overall number of fires –27 companies related with Wilmar Group, and 19 companies related with Sinarmas Group.”

Riko Kurniawan, Director of WALHI Riau said, “The results of the analysis conducted by the Eyes of the Forest coalition where WALHI Riau is a part, indicates that the group Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and RGM/APRIL are the groups with number of companies that contributed the most of firespots, i.e. each 6 companies ”

Forest fires and smoke pollution has a very bad impact on public health. Patients with Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) due to smog pollution have reached an enormous numbers, Jambi 20,471 people, 15,138 people of Central Kalimantan, South Sumatra 28,000 people, and West Kalimantan 10,010 people.

Anton P. Widjaja, Director of WALHI West Kalimantan, asserts, “There must be a shift in the paradigm and approach of the government in dealing with fire and smoke, not only did the effort after the fire occurs (emergency response), but it should be the prevention efforts in a systematic and structural way, including in this case demanding the company’s accountability for the impact of these fires and smoke pollution. The presence of the state in such a situation is also very important to ensure and guarantee citizens’ rights to a clean and healthy environment as stipulated in the Constitution of 1945.”

Similarly, Hadi Jatmiko, Director of WALHI South Sumatra, said,”The main actor of the forest fires arsonits is the corporation, so the state must ensure the full responsibility of the company. If the state wants to be responsible to its citizens, the state must also be bolder in demanding corporate responsibility on the adverse effects of fire and smoke to the community and ensure the restoration of the environment.”

In particular, related with adverse effects on public health, Arie Rompas, Director of WALHI Central Kalimantan explained, “The responsibility of the state not only when there is smoke. The Ministry of Health needs to perform regular health monitoring for areas exposed to smoke both now and after the smog. We call on the Minister of Health, Mrs. Nina Moeloek to go to the field and feel the effects of the smoke, so she will not make any statement that could injure the public sense of justice –like saying that the smoke from forest fires is not dangerous to health.”

Rudiansyah, from WALHI Jambi asserted, “As an effort to demand liability of the company from fire and smoke pollution, WALHI would take legal action, such as class action or citizen law suit that will be done in the provinces as well as nationally.”

Photo: Smoking peat lands in a palm oil plantation, Central Kalimantan, September 2015. Photo courtesy of Victor Barro, Friends of the Earth Spain.

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