Indonesia’s new wildfire epicenter moves away from Sumatra and Borneo
- Indonesia, a country that suffers from recurring fires every year, has seen an increase in land and forest fires this year, with flames burning an area twice the size of London.
- Two-thirds of the area burned was in the provinces of West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara, which until recently suffered far fewer burns than the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
- Experts attribute the increase in fires in both provinces to lack of local firefighting capacity and extremely dry weather.
JAKARTA – Indonesia’s land and forest fires burned a larger area this year than in 2020, with most fires occurring in western Nusa Tenggara and eastern Nusa Tenggara, two provinces that do not were until recently no major fires.
By the end of November, the fires had burned 353,222 hectares (872,831 acres) of land, an area twice the size of London. This is an increase of almost 16% from the 296,942 hectares (733,759 acres) burned throughout 2020, according to official data from the Department of Environment and Forestry.
The largest increase in fires occurred in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) and East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) provinces, which until a few years ago accounted for only a fraction of total fires.
This year, the fires at NTB burned 100,908 hectares (249,349 acres), nearly a third of the national total, and more than triple the area burned in the province last year. At NTT, the figure was higher, with 137,297 hectares (339,268 acres) burned, up nearly 20% from the 2020 figure.
This makes NTB and NTT the top two provinces in terms of fire size for two consecutive years. Together, fires in the two provinces accounted for two-thirds of the total area burned in Indonesia this year; in 2020, the two provinces were home to half of the total area burned.
In 2019, which saw a particularly bad episode of fires fanned by an El NiÃ±o system bringing drier-than-usual weather conditions, the regions most affected were Borneo provinces of Central Kalimantan, with 134,227 hectares (331,682 acres) burned, and West Kalimantan, with 127,462 hectares (314,965 acres).
Among the areas burned by the fires this year were part of an island in NTT’s Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to approximately 2,800 Komodo Dragons (Varanus komodoensis).
Raffles B. Panjaitan, a fire expert working as an advisor to the Minister of Environment and Forestry, said the scale of the fires at NTT and NTB were unprecedented.
“In the past two years, fires at NTT and NTB have reached over 100,000 hectares each,” he told an event in Jakarta on December 23. “Before, it was less than 50,000 hectares each.”
Dry outings and scrubland
Raffles said the fires in both provinces had received less attention than those in perennial hotspots of Sumatra and Borneo, where slash-and-burn practices have regularly fueled massive fires from which the toxic haze spread. to neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.
“Maybe we have to see [whatâs happening in NTB and NTT] because so far nobody controls [the fires there], “he said.” There are no fire brigades directly responsible. “
Bambang Hero Saharjo, a leading forest fire expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said the fires at NTB and NTT are not a new phenomenon, although their scale is this time around. -this. The burning, usually of scrubland, is not as intense as in Sumatra and Borneo, which have large areas of carbon-rich peat, he added.
NTB and NTT, the southernmost provinces of Indonesia, are also the driest in the country. They live less precipitation than the western region of the country, and often experience drought periods of more than 60 days. In 2017, NTT did not see rain for more than 100 days; the district of Sumba East in NTT suffered from 249 days without rain in 2019.
And when fires break out there, the rugged terrain makes it difficult for firefighters to access areas on fire, Bambang said.
“The burnt areas are not productive land, and they are difficult to reach. [for firefighters]He told Mongabay. “And the [firefighting] the facilities are not yet optimal. Therefore, fire mitigation efforts are not yet optimal.
More funding needed to fight fires
With the increase in the scale of the fires at NTB and NTT, Bambang called for more efforts to mitigate the fires in the two provinces.
âThe more land burned, the higher the emissions,â he said. âTherefore, it is not appropriate that stakeholders pay attention to these two provinces. “
He called on local governments to build the capacity of firefighting brigades and replace easily flammable brush with more fire-resistant crops. “Finally, law enforcement against the perpetrators of land and forest fires must be stepped up,” Bambang said.
He also called for increased funding from the central government for firefighting and fire prevention efforts.
Raffles said the Forestry Department’s budget for fire mitigation had been slashed over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
âThe budgetâ¦ was tiny,â he said. “It’s 38 billion rupees [$2.67 million]. In the past it was 100 billion rupees [$7 billion] and therefore coordination [for firefighting] at the local level was stronger.
Raffles said he hoped there would be a budget increase for 2022, warning that “there is no way [firefighting efforts] can be mobilized in the field if there is no budget.
Bambang agreed that the fires could get worse without an increase in the budget to fight them.
âIn my opinion, if future fire mitigation efforts aren’t much different from 2021, there won’t be a significant decrease in fires, especially with an increasingly shrinking fire mitigation budget because it is instead being used for the COVID-19 pandemic, “he said.” If there is no budget, or a limited budget, it will hamper fire mitigation efforts. The implication is fires. uncontrollable.
Raffles said the ministry wanted to avoid such a scenario, given that the forest fires in Indonesia tend to come under scrutiny on a global scale.
Banner image: A firefighter tries to put out the blazing flames in the Gili Lawa Darat savannah in Komodo National Park in Flores, east of Nusa Tenggara, in August 2018. Image courtesy of the Komodo National Park agency.
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