7 things you need to know about the forest fires and haze in South East Asia
The return of the annual dry season in Indonesia sees an increase in news reporting on haze and hotspots. For many, the knee-jerk reaction might still be, “Oh, the palm oil companies must be causing it”, but this isn’t always the case. We share some facts to help you understand more about the situation, and what GAR is doing to prevent forest fires.
- Climate change is making fire seasons worse. Even though we expect drier than usual conditions from July to September annually, weather phenomena such as El Niño can exacerbate the situation. In a rare bit of good news for 2020, Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has reported that the dry season is expected to be less severe than last year.
- Fires caused by small scale agriculture are on the rise. Research from internationally-recognised World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that the majority of fires are not happening within palm oil concessions. In fact, studies show that deforestation from large scale plantations is declining, but deforestation from small scale agriculture and as a result of fire is on the rise.
- Fire monitoring and reporting systems are essential for a rapid response. GAR’s strong fire reporting system tracks the number of hotspots within and around our estates. This system allows us to locate and respond to fires quickly. From January to June this year, there have been nine fires in GAR’s concessions totalling 10.75 hectares. Upon investigation, the majority of causes have been agricultural land preparation by external parties and improperly put out cigarette butts. See our latest fire incident reports here.
- Our Emergency Response Personnel are trained to tackle fires on the ground. When fires occur, our people are our greatest asset. 10,000 Emergency Response Personnel are on standby across our concessions, trained and ready for to fight fires. Our estates are also equipped with fire-fighting equipment.
- Long-term fire prevention plans are essential. Our Desa Makmur Peduli Api (DMPA) fire-free programme is a multi-year programme to proactively prevent fires caused by small-scale agriculture (see point two above). The programme includes fire prevention and rapid response, conservation, and food security. Watch this video to learn more about it.As of end 2019, DMPA has been rolled out in 32 villages. The programme benefits communities in a variety of ways. Villages who succeed in preventing hotspots receive 50-100 million rupiah from the company in the form of facilities and infrastructure for the village.
- Younger generations need to learn fire prevention early. To educate children about the dangers of forest fires, we have launched the Rumbun and Jungle Friends storybook. We hope as leaders of the next generation, they can inspire those around them to change for the better, especially to do away with the slash-and-burn practice. Download your copy of the storybook here.
- Reducing the threat of peat fires is important. Peatlands are a unique ecosystem found only in some parts of the world (like Indonesia), and are particularly flammable when they are dry. Peat fires are considered more dangerous than forest fires because they emit more greenhouse gases (due to the high carbon content in their soil), and once started, can smoulder for weeks or months underground. We have been rehabilitating our peatlands in West Kalimantan since 2016 to reduce the risk of peat fires. GAR has also recently announced a Villages Care for Peat programme with Indonesia’s Peat Restoration Agency (BRG). It will teach villages neighbouring peatlands how to take care of peatlands.
The COVID-19 situation has not reduced our commitment or investment in fire prevention. Although some of our work in community engagement has been hampered due to restrictions in movement, we are still doing outreach to communities where we have people embedded, and online events where internet permits.
We have recently launched a series of fire awareness WhatsApp stickers that allow community members to remind one another about the hazards of forest fires and how to prevent them (ie. disposing of cigarette butts carefully).
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