Sudibyo Wiradji – As the dry season continues, heed must be given to peatland forests in Indonesia, especially on Kalimantan Island. Hot spots are expected to rise, which will potentially lead to forest fires.
Illegal blazes to clear land for agricultural plantations have been cited as one of the causes of the annual forest fires.
According to experts, peatland, as an accumulator of carbon is highly combustible and hard to extinguish once ablaze. The release of carbon potentially increases greenhouse gas emissions.
Haze from forest fires, which frequently occurs in Sumatra and Kalimantan, not only harm adult and child health but also contribute to global warming.
That's why effective solutions for the containment of forest fires are highly needed.
Bambang Hero Saharjo, a professor at IPB University, highlighted the role that local communities played in forest fire prevention.
Stakeholders involved in tackling forest fires should engage local communities. "Just team up with local communities as a partner, part of a family. What frequently occurs is that local communities become a victim or a culprit, etc. As a consequence, there is no good relationship," said Bambang in a virtual dialogue on "Managing Peatlands in the Kalimantan Region" on Tuesday.
The virtual dialog was held in the wake of a warning issued by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).
The BMKG warned about the increase in temperature and the reduction of humidity in Kalimantan, indicating potential for forest and land fires.
West Kalimantan Environmental Services Office Head Adi Yani shared Bambang's view, saying that one of the approaches to preventing peat fires was collaborating with the communities living around the peatland.
Adi appreciated the economic revitalization program designed by the Mangrove and Peatland Restoration Agency (BRGM) which has driven local community groups to always be ready to safeguard the Peat Wetting Infrastructure (IPG), which could reduce the risk of fires.
"We see that revitalization in Mempawah regency has run effectively. There, livestock farming continues," Adi said.
Environmental Damage and Pollution Control Division Head for the South Kalimantan Environmental Services Office, Dadang, said that steps had been taken to rewet peat in a number of villages and around vital national facilities such as Syamsudin Noor Airport. The activities were carried out by teaming up with Community Firefighting Teams (MPAs), the Regional Peatland Restoration Team (TRGD) and administration offices at the regency or municipality level.
Currently, based on an evaluation, the facilities and infrastructure for rewetting are still lacking. "The rewetting facility and infrastructure remain inadequate. We hope that forest firefighting equipment will become available," he said.
According to Bambang, forest and land fires, especially in peatland, will draw international attention due the role that peatland plays in storing carbon globally.
Bambang said a number of hot spots monitored by satellite in Kalimantan needed extra attention.
The attention could be given by the Provincial Environmental Offices (DLHs) in regions by conducting audit compliance or audits on forest and land fire control and corporations, according to Bambang.
This way, corporations' roles in implementing functions in accordance with existing regulations could be detected, Bambang said, for example, by seeing the supporting facility and infrastructure utilized to handle peat fires.
"It will be seen whether the corporation has met the requirements or not," he said.
Bambang also asked stakeholders to take advantage of data monitoring by utilizing satellite data. The step has been taken to anticipate the spread of hot spots and monitor the land condition and has also provided direction for the necessary steps to be taken to prevent forest fires.
BRGM serves as a facilitator and coordinator to restore burned peatlands. "So don't demand that [the agency] be held responsible for handling the forest fires. This is our collective responsibility," he said.
Nevertheless, Bambang appreciated the efforts of the Peatland Restoration and Mangrove Rehabilitation Agency to rewet dried peatland to prevent it from burning. It was on the right track, he said.
Meanwhile Environmental Damage and Pollution Control Division Head for the Central Kalimantan Environmental Services Office, Merti Ilona, mentioned that BRGM was working to restore damaged peatland as a result of shifts in land function and fires. Peat fires caused the notorious haze disasters, she said.
For that reason, she hoped that economic development intervention for communities living around the peatland could continue to safeguard IPG. "We hope that the deadly duo, COVID-19 and peat forest fires won't occur," Meri said.
To prevent peat fires, Head of the Working Group for Kalimantan and Papua, Jany Tri Raharjo, said since early June, the BRGM had anticipated the dry season by partly checking the IPG condition at fire-prone spots.
"We will repair the damaged canal blocks and deep wells," said Jany.
In addition to checking IPG, BRGM also asked Manggala Agni, forest fire fighters and the MPA to carry out the operation of rewetting drought-vulnerable peatland (OPGRK). "The location is selected by considering several criteria, [including] seven days without rain, BMKG predicting flammability, indications of hot spots and the water level. If one of the criteria cannot be met, then the team will start rewetting the peatland," he said.
Apart from rewetting, the field team is also under the fire-fighting task force, whose task is to help isolate land fires.
Jany said that even if peatland was rewetted a fire could still occur. One of the causes was the use of insecticides to remove bushes, which left wild plants to dry.
"When the wind blows the fires, the vegetation burns," he said.
To tackle the burnt peatland, Jany added that BRGM, along with seven peatland restoration-targeted provinces, had a quick response in the form of the quick response operation to rewet bed peatland (OPCLGT).
Jany also said that collaboration and integrated activities were crucial given that the approach for peatland restoration was the peat hydrologic unit, which involved stakeholders in concession and non-concession areas.
"Collaboration and integrated activities are very crucial to anticipate forest fires," he said.