Indonesia may see repeat of big forest fires

President orders ministries to stop recurrence.

INDONESIA could face its worst forest fires in 15 years if measures are not taken to combat them – a situation that will worsen the current haze enveloping the region.

Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said that President Suharto had ordered the Agriculture and Forestry ministries to take the necessary steps to counter the problem affecting some of its largest provinces, as Indonesia braced itself for its worst drought in half a century.

“We need to develop a sense of urgency. We should not take the problem lightly because the fires will affect a great number of people here and in neighbouring countries,” he said.

“If not, the forest fires we dealt with in 1982 will break out again, and, who knows, we might not be as lucky as then when heavy downpours helped put out the fires.”

Agriculture Minister Syarifuddin Baharsyah yesterday said the authorities were planning to make rain artificially if the current dry season persisted until October.

Mr Baharsyah, who spoke after meeting Mr Suharto, gave no other details and did not mention which regions would benefit from the move.

Mr Sarwono cited information from the United States national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which has recorded this year’s dry season in Indonesia to be the worst in 50 years.

The Jakarta Post yesterday quoted him as saying that besides more forest fires in the country, there would be problems of water shortages and a rise in the number of skin and respiratory diseases in the country.

Countries close to Indonesia would also face problems, he said.

Fires in Central and West Kalimantan have routinely caused haze problems in Malaysia while forest fires in the Sumatran provinces of Riau and Jambi have clouded skies over Singapore.

Despite the prolonged drought, Mr Sarwono noted that carelessness was more to blame for the spread of the forest fires
around the country.

The Antara national news agency yesterday quoted him as saying that large forestry and plantation companies and the government-sponsored transmigration programme was responsible for 90 per cent of the forest fires.

Only 10 per cent was due to the traditional farming and land-clearing methods of slash-and-burn harvesting.

He disclosed that at least 16,000 ha of land had been affected this year.

“Those are the reported fires. I am sure the number is higher than that,” he said.

He said that fires destroyed 161,000 ha of land in 1994, while in 1995 and last year, about 3,000 ha were destroyed each

The Indonesian government has so far tried to confront the prolonged drought by creating artificial rain through cloud-seeding operations.

It has also vowed to take stern action against those responsible for the forest fires.


Forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra in 1982 destroyed some three million ha of rain forest, causing an estimated US$300 million (S$450 million) in damage.

The fires, which lasted almost a year, spewed a smokey haze over much of the region.

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