Indonesia’s moratorium on peatland burning is failing. Focusing on Riau province, the region with the most extensive of peatlands, in the period 1 to 8 March, 2018, there have been 99 fire alerts in the following areas:
- Siak 35
- Pelalawan 30
- Kepulauan Riau Kepulauan 29
Between 2 – 3 March seven hotspots were detected in Riau Province, two of them in Meranti Islands, with Kampar, Rokan Hulu, Dumai, Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan, each one hot spot. Of course, hotspots don’t immediately mean a fire is burning but images from the ground tell the story.
At the time of writing Riau still had forest and peatland fires in several districts. At Lukun Village in the Meranti Islands, 1,224 hectares of peat forest was burned in 16 days.
Estimates are based on drone observations at altitudes of 100 metres and supplements by satellite image analysis.
Mapping Riau’s Fires
The embedded map shows the approximate location of some of the larger fires burning in Riau in during February and the first week of March 2018. I must acknowledge the assistance of Prayoto in sharing much of the data for this map. Working between maps he generated using GloVis, and Google maps that are easier for me to disseminate to educational networks has been challenging if only because GloVis uses complete statements of latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and seconds and Google uses a decimal system. In the end, I abandoned precision for speed. Consequently, some of the fire areas I’ve shown are approximate. The map will be updated as more data comes to hand.
Mongabay highlights problems of fire and finance
Mongabay Indonesia has provided excellent coverage of the present problem, that would seem to indicate a failure of the peatland burning moratorium. It is important to acknowledge that only one fore, in the period covered, was on a RSPO classified oil palm concession. moratorium As of 26 February the Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) in Riau, identified 731.5 hectares of fires while the Riau University Research Facility assisting the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) identified 1,224 hectares of forest fires.
According to Haris Gunawan, Deputy 4, at BRG suggests illegal logging activities, canalisation and fuel availability as possible causes of the fire near Lukun village
Presumably, he is suggesting that the logging activities might employ fire for clearing or that illegal loggers were using fire for other purposes. Their presence was clear because of the wood-lined paths, for forest timber extraction, were found along with a forest hut and no doubt other evidence;
The construction of five kilometres of peatland drainage canal, up six metres wide and four meters deep, that cause drying and increased flammability of peatlands during the dry periods
Fire on peatlands could be due to abundant fuel availability. He mentions dried peat, sago bark and shrubs and litter. Observing that, “Dried litter and this stem makes fire jump when burning biomass. Even jumping over canals and roads. “
No fire around the BRG project
He also observed that BRG has a peat restoration project in Lukun and there was no fire around the project.
Serious fires occur within a few kilometres of the restoration site and have not intervened BRG programs. Haris Gunawan stresses that restoration activities cannot be stand-alone initiatives, that concession holders must also make an effort. This is a sound principle as restoration activities can be undermined if drainage canals continue to be cut in other parts of the same peat dome. In essence, if restoration strategies are to be effective they must be must holistic and involve whole peat dome management
Penyengat Village, Siak, also has an active fire but the remote forest location is making it difficult to extinguish. He estimates, it has burned about 80 hectares in the last 10 days
Firefighting budget trimmed
Adding to the problem the provincial budget for forest firefighting has been cut from Rp29.3 billion to Rp6.6 billion, a 77% reduction. Tarmizi, Head of Research and Advocacy of Budget Transparency Forum (Fitra) Riau, said
“I do not know why this year the budget is so drastically reduced. Even though the authority of forestry management is Provincial Government and no longer in the district. A big responsibility, minimal budget allocations, this is also a problem” he told Mongabay , last weekend.
He explained that the funds are spread across agencies, the Office of Environment and Forestry, the Regional Disaster Management Agency and the Plantation Crops Department. All of which have programs for forest and land fire prevention.
He considered, the budget of fire handling every year at least Rp30 billion, the same as the previous year. The funds, he said, should contain a peat recovery program.
BRG itself allocated Rp49 billion. The amount is outside of the donor agency. Such a budget is for rewetting programs, revegetation and revitalization of living resources in six areas of hydrological unity.
BRG targets 140,000 hectares of peat recovered this year. For five years to 2020, about 900,000 hectares of damaged peatland in Riau will be recovered.
“Peat in Riau 5 million hectares. It hurts 20 years. (Target restoration) 900,000 hectares work five years, let’s see five years later. The areas that are now burning are not in the intervention areas (BRG), “said Haris, in front of a number of agencies in Riau firefighting unit, last week.
Dealing with peatlands holistically
Haris Gunawan explained that BRG, is “not tackling forest fires, but restoring healthy peat to reduce burning vulnerability”. Others have criticised BRG for being less a than effective in applying a holistic approach to peatland restoration. In the Desa Lukun area, for example, the damage to peatland caused by two big companies PT.LUM and PT NSP has resulted in drying and increased flammability. So, fire has been a persistent problem in this area notably in 2014 and now again in 2018. Lukun highlights the problem that dealing with peatland restoration must be comprehensive. Peat domes are part of a system and their restoration requires cooperation between all stakeholders throughout the drainage system, from headwaters to the coastline.