Indonesia say it aims to reduce forest fires by 40-50 percent this year, following nearly a decade of devastating seasonal fires that release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, threaten critical orangutan habitat, and raise regional health risks.
"Our target is to reduce them by 40-50 percent. We may never be able to eradicate forest fires completely," Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar told Reuters by telephone. "Forest fires also happen in Hollywood, Malibu in the United States and in Sydney, it`s a natural phenomenon. We have to be realistic. What we can do is prevent the repeat of last year`s scale."
Most fires are lit by farmers and plantation owners to clear brush and forest for industrial timber production, agriculture, and oil palm plantations. While such burning is illegal in Indonesia, laws are poorly enforced. Fires are worst in el Niño years when rainfall declines in Indonesia. Meteorologists say this year is shaping up to be a la Niña year, which should help reduce fire risk. Still Indonesia is working on fire prevention and suppression strategies including improved monitoring, law enforcement, and rural education efforts to teach farmers not to use slash-and-burn. The neighboring countries of Malaysian and Singapore are also coordinating fire-fighting plans with Indonesia.
Between 2000 and 2005 Indonesia lost nearly 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of forest per year. The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) projects that 98 percent of Indonesia`s lowland forests will be gone by 2022, putting endangered species like the orangutan at risk of extinction in the wild. Deforestation and fires have made the country the world`s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases despite having only the 22nd largest economy.
Source: www.news.mongabay.com (25 Juni 2007)