Indonesia’s Forest Fires: Limited Resources Hamper Fight

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Forest fires sweeping across Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent months prompted six Indonesian provinces to declare a state of emergency. Yet the scale of resources devoted to fighting and preventing forest fires remains far short of what is needed to turn around Indonesia’s rising rates of deforestation and meet Indonesia’s ambitious climate pledge.

Fires break out across Indonesia every year during the dry season as large companies and smallholder farmers alike burn forests and fields to clear land for crops, especially lucrative oil palm and pulpwood. These crops are big business. Palm oil exports exceeded US$15 billion in 2015, while the forestry industry employs more than half a million Indonesians. The fires are enabled by decades of forest degradation caused by logging, which thins and dries the forest.

Fires are biggest during El Niño years when flames can reach catastrophic proportions as they did in 1998 and 2015. But sizable fires happen even in non-El Niño years, like 2017. Across the country, the fires cause respiratory damage as millions of Indonesians inhale smoke, as well as economic damages to airports, schools, crops and timber.

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