The hundreds of forest and plantation fires burning in Sumatra are choking out Malaysia. Greenpeace have commented that “the 1997 fires in Indonesia’s rainforests added as much carbon to the atmosphere as all the coal, oil and gas burned in Western Europe that year.” How much is this?
Interestingly The Australian newspaper has focused on the impact of the fires on the Indonesian-Malaysian relationship:
The Australian, 12th August
“The thick smog presents the country with its worst pollution crisis since 1997, when smoke mainly from Indonesian bushfires blocked out skies across Southeast Asia. Fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which is a short ferry ride from peninsular Malaysia’s west coast, flare up around this time every year as farmers, plantation owners and miners burn forests to clear land during the dry season.
The opposition Democratic Action Party said Malaysians were “furious and worried” about the pollution and that it would mount a protest at the Indonesian embassy today as well as a public rally on Sunday.” end.
A Malaysian newspaper is comparing the cause of these fires to the 1997 fires and considering the role of their own companies with plantations in Sumatra:
New Straits Times, 13th August
“According to Plantation Enterprises and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin, who has just returned from Medan after meeting with Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban, fires on plantation land made up 30 per cent of the hotspots while the rest of the fires were caused by slash-and-burn farmers.
This seems to be the reverse of the situation in 1997-98 when most of the fires were said to have been started deliberately to clear land for oil palm plantations. According to one estimate, up to 80 per cent of the burning in 1997 occurred in plantation company concessions, and 75 per cent of these were oil palm estates.
Oil palm plantations were certainly over-represented in the list of 176 companies charged in court for starting the fires of 1997-98.” end.
The Indonesian Jakarta Post seems to look to government for answers and suggest the fires are about slash and burn agriculture:
Jakarta Post, 14th August
“Too often the fires have been the result of land clearing by either farmers or speculators. While slash-and-burn agriculture is common among the indigenous populations, these fires can spread uncontrollably in dry conditions.
Since the major forests fires of 1997 and 1998, which created a region-wide crisis, various mechanisms and high profile meetings have been held to set up a joint mechanism to manage such catastrophes and provide early warning.
The repeated recurrence of fires proves that much of these efforts simply don’t work, or more precisely, haven’t been made to work.” end.
I wonder about the impact of the fires on the local fauna and flora?