Focus on Indonesia – Tackling peatland fires

In 2015, El Niño triggered fires in Indonesia that destroyed around 17,000 km 2 of forest and plantations according to the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forests (Jakarta Post, 2015). The smoke blackened the sky over Borneo and Sumatra and parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. The Indonesian Agency for Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics estimated that 43 million people in Indonesia alone were exposed to the haze, with half a million treated for respiratory illnesses related to air pollutants (The Wall Street Journal, 2015). Six provinces declared a state of emergency when the number of active fires reached 127,000, the highest level recorded since 2003 (World Resources Institute, 2015a; The Wall Street Journal, 2015). The regional economy was affected with the cost to Indonesia alone estimated at USD 16.1 billion (Glauber and Gunawan, 2015). In addition to carbon dioxide, peatland fires release the greenhouse gas methane, which is approximately 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas.

disproportionally to haze. On the worst days, greenhouse gas emissions from Indonesia’s fires exceeded those being released by the US economy as a whole (World Resources Institute, 2015b). In August 2015, the sky was yellow. We were starved of oxygen. We couldn’t breathe … Our eyes burned. We couldn’t sleep. We couldn’t run. Where would we run to? The sky was dark. The air was poison. 8 In recent years, major peatland fire events occurred in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015, with states of emergency being declared in five Indonesian provinces as the fire season got underway in August 2017. This points to a long-term dramatic increase in fire vulnerability in drained Indonesian peatland landscapes. Fires are typically lit during the dry seasons on cleared or degraded forest lands to expand agricultural plantations. They are also used to open access to fishing pools, wildlife and other resources (Chokkalingam et al., 2007).

8. Emmanuela Shinta of the Indigenous Dayak people and Ranu Welum Foundation describing the effect of Indonesian peatland fires at the Global Landscapes Forum, 18 May 2017, Jakarta.

The low oxygen content of peatlands results in partial burning of the organic matter and high loads of particles, contributing


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