Monday, August 12, 2013

Indonesia's burning question

Amy Chew in  Corruption and intimidation are being blamed by environmentalists for the choking smog that characterises the dry season on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Campaigners say that illegal slash-and-burn clearance by large corporations is causing rampant deforestation but persists because of widespread corruption among local officials.

The dry season inaugurates a period of intense activity for Indonesia's fire investigators, as large corporations and smallholders allegedly begin illegally burning their forests, a cheaper way to clear the land than chopping down trees. The burning leaves a choking haze over Riau province in Sumatra, a large island with nearly 50 million residents, and easterly winds take the stinging smog across the Strait of Malacca to Malaysia and Singapore.

But while open burning is illegal in Indonesia, authorities often turn a blind eye to fires started on land leased by big plantation companies, according to Bustar Maitar, the head of Greenpeace Indonesia's forest campaign. Foreign investors operating in Indonesia allegedly bribe local government officials to allow them to use slash-and-burn techniques on their land, Bustar says.

"A plantation will still make a profit if it spends money to chop down the trees rather than burning it. Large plantations just want to get bigger profits," he said. The environmental organisation is warning of more forest fires to come as the country approaches the 2014 legislative and presidential elections, pointing out that local authorities are reported to give land concessions to individuals and corporations in exchange for campaign funds...

A NASA view of fires in Sumatra in October 2006

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