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VP Kalla fans flames in Manila as Indonesia presses on with water bombing

  • Kalla made the exact same comments blaming foreign companies during a forestry summit in Jakarta in April.
  • Satellite data from Global Forest Watch show more than 20 fires burning close to the mouths of the Lumpur and Mesuji rivers.
  • Indonesian government water bombing operations continue to target smoldering peat fires in South Sumatra province.

Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla again blamed the wind for the regional haze crisis during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Tuesday in the Philippines. Kalla’s comments come months after he faced allegations of complacency for emphasizing Malaysia and Singapore had yet to thank Indonesia for the clean air they ordinarily received from Indonesia.

“I’m so sorry to Malaysia and Singapore to say that we cannot control the wind,” Kalla said. “We don’t want the haze to go everywhere – it is not because we want it to [affect] our neighbors, it’s because of the wind.”

The vice president added that deforestation in Indonesia was principally due to foreign companies showing Indonesians how to fell trees in the middle of the last century. Kalla made the exact same comments blaming foreign actors during a forestry summit in Jakarta in April, saying armchair critics of the archipelago’s recent environmental track record often prioritized endangered species over poverty reduction.

“Ten months every year good weather goes to our neighbors,” Kalla said. “You enjoyed it, we did not ask you to pay for it.”

In March this year Kalla said Singapore had benefited from 11 months of clean air provided by Indonesia. In Manila on Tuesday Kalla added that Indonesia required greater international cooperation to address the causes of annual forest and agricultural fires, thanking countries for contributing air assets to drop water on fires.

This year the international air operation was centered on two regencies in South Sumatra and involved air force planes from neighboring countries as well as Australia and Russia.

Analysts say water drops from the air and cloud seeding, a method of artificially inducing rain, have no impact on extinguishing subterranean peatland fires. Land reform and stronger law enforcement are both required to stop fires burning in the flammable marshes of Kalimantan and Sumatra, NGOs such as Greenpeace say. In response, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has pledged to ban all new development on peatland, restore more than 2 million hectares and block canals used to drain water from peat.

Crucially, Jokowi’s pledges have not been made law yet and much of the detail remains unannounced.

The early indications are that Jokowi’s plan for wholesale reform of Indonesia peat management will run up against some obstacles in the environment and agricultural ministries.

Indonesia’s agriculture ministry has been instructed to focus on food security in order to meet an optimistic target for self-sufficiency by 2019. The government is also pressing the ministry to increase food production to trim inflation.

“We will ask for peatland that has already been burned to be converted into agricultural land,” said agriculture minister Amran Sulaiman.

Indonesian government water bombing operations continue to target smoldering peat fires in South Sumatra province, which has seen the number of fires increase over the last 24 hours.

“As we enter the rainy season we will potentially see a decline in forest fires but the potential for floods and landslides will increase,” Indonesia’s disaster management agency said on Tuesday.

Satellite data from Global Forest Watch show more than 20 fires burning close to the mouths of the Lumpur and Mesuji rivers.