Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Indonesia needs years to tackle forest fires: Jokowi

JAKARTA — The annual fires that have blanketed Southeast Asia in hazardous smoke are not a problem that can be easily solved and it will take three years to see results, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said.

JAKARTA — The annual fires that have blanketed Southeast Asia in hazardous smoke are not a problem that can be easily solved and it will take three years to see results, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said.

“We’ve been working hard in dealing with the haze problem but this isn’t a problem that you can solve quickly because it involves land burning in tens of thousands of hectares in six provinces. My people are the victims too,” he said in an interview with broadcaster BBC published on its website yesterday.

A source of tension between Indonesia and its neighbours every year, the pollution is caused by people in Indonesia’s Sumatra, Kalimantan and Riau regions illegally burning large swathes of forest and peat for planting, most notably with lucrative oil palm trees.

The thick smoke generated by the fires spreads to the neighbouring regions, engulfing large areas with acrid smog.

Singapore and Malaysia have called on Indonesia to do more to address the problem, though Indonesia has often pointed out that some of the companies responsible for the burning are foreign-owned and that their neighbours benefit from cheap palm oil products.

Mr Widodo dismissed criticism he had failed to deliver on election promises and told BBC that Indonesia has gone to “great lengths” to address the problem, deploying 3,700 military officers, 7,900 police officers, 18 helicopers and four planes to put out the fires.

“But again, we need time,” he added. “We need to build temporary water reserves in the forests, we need to dig canals to flow water to the peat forests. This physical work needs time. I think we need three years for all this physical work to be completed, for you to see the result. But I believe there will be progress every year too, because there is consistency in our approach.”

Nonetheless, Mr Widodo has ordered an acceleration of efforts to extinguish forest fires, the thick smoky haze of which has affected parts of western Indonesia and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia. The order was given to the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, who was summoned yesterday to brief the President on the haze.

Indonesia’s task force on the transboundary haze was also discussing yesterday whether it was necessary to raise the problem to the level of a national disaster. The decision to declare the haze a national disaster has to be made by the National Disaster Management Agency.

However, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister and head of the task force, Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said that it was more important to tackle the problem operationally and put out the fires quickly.

“We will have this discussion today but for me, it’s more important about the operation instead of the terminology,” she explained. “What is the difference? The point is that we have to do the best thing for the people, also for our neighbours. I’m also following everyday and every hour what is happening with the air pollution in Singapore.”

The last time Indonesia declared a state of national emergency was during the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 in the country. AGENCIES

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa