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Indonesia’s Burning Issue

Indonesia’s Burning Issue

A single forest fire is hard to control. Imagine over 100,000 of them. Indonesia is in the middle of what can be termed as the worst environmental disaster of the 21st century. Millions of acres of Indonesia’s bio diverse peatlands have been burnt to ash in these fires that have been raging through the islands of the country since August this year.

Photo: Public Domain. For representational purposes.

With the burning of wood, and carbon-rich peat, comes smoke. Lots of it. The smoke columns hanging over Indonesia are so thick that satellite images taken from space show them distinctly. Such is the intensity of these hazy toxic gases, that it has already killed 19 people, and afflicted half a million others with acute respiratory conditions. More than 40 million lie exposed to the smoke.  Several regions have been evacuated and Indonesia is considering declaring a national emergency.

One can only imagine the toll these fires are taking on Indonesia’s wildlife. With forests gone, so are crucial wildlife habitats. And just as humans are fleeing smoke laden regions of the islands, so are the animals who have managed to escape being caught in the fires. Human-wildlife conflicts are expected to emerge as people and animal move into closer proximity to one another. The island of Borneo which is home to a third of the world’s endangered organgutan population is one of the worst hit regions, Sumatran islands being some of them.  And orangutans aren’t the only endangered animals living on these islands.

So what happened? What led to this cataclysmic catastrophe? Believe it or not, this is the handiwork of humans. Indonesia is the leading producer of palm oil which is extensively used as an ingredient in various processed foods and cosmetics. There is such demand for palm oil, that the pristine rain forests of Indonesia are razed to grow palm oil plantation monocultures by palm oil conglomerates hungry to rake in millions. And the easiest and quickest way to clear such large, thick tracts of forests? Burn them down.

This along with severe mismanagement of forest lands, corruption, extreme exploitation and abuse of Indonesia’s natural heritage the likes of Sumatra and Borneo led to this disaster. These islands are one of the richest peatlands and biodiverse regions in the world, Indonesia’s pride that the country should be guarding with their lives against the small and big plantation companies and other troublemakers.

Instead, the government of Indonesia offers these forest lands to the palm oil giants. And what do they do? They simply set fire to these forests, raze them to the ground. This happens every year on a scale that will astonish you. And every year the rains help douse the raging flames. This year, all of the worst possible factors – political, ecological and climatic have come together in the worst possible combination.

The peatlands are unique ecosystems made out of decaying vegetation, extremely rich in CO2, which take thousands of years to develop to even 1.5 to 2 m. high. And dried peat makes for an inflammable mine. Once set ablaze, the fires rage above and under these peatlands and are almost impossible to extinguish. And not to mention the release of all that carbon released on being set afire, which until now the peat held in its womb and whatever escaped was immediately absorbed by the plants on these lands. This neat carbon sink system has been drastically disturbed and now the fires continue to burn through the islands apace. And the carbon emissions of dangerous proportions have been irretrievably emitted out into the already reeling atmosphere. Over 16 million metric tons of CO2 a day to be precise, according to the World Resources Institute, which surpasses the whole of U.S.A’s, a country with economy 20 times larger than Indonesia’s. Friv games play today. Friv games play online at this website. Play today at the best friv games.

This year with the El Niño climate factor in full force, the monsoon which was expected to douse the fires, never came, extending the dry periods until only now.

By now, damage of this inferno has already manifested in every way and a domino effect of dangerous repercussions has been kick started. Humans are undoubtedly in a hellish nightmare; climate has taken a hit of unprecedented proportions, and so has the wildlife. Sumatra and Borneo are home to endangered species of orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants and these fires have ravaged their only home.

Indonesia had last faced an eco crisis of this scale in 1997, during which the haze caused by forest fires dramatically reduced bee populations, which severely impacted the agriculture sector (because we depend on bees for pollinating our crops and trees for us). Without them, the food security dwindled. It took over three years to recuperate from that disaster. Who knows, how long it will take this time.

Author: Purva Variyar.

 
 
 

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