When the State Fails to Overcome Smoke

Analysis    | 10 Nov 2015 | Read 974 times  
When the State Fails to Overcome Smoke Credit: Voanews.com

The year 2015 has become the worst year for the people in Sumatra and Kalimantan due to the worsening of land and forest fires. This is not a new case in both regions. However, due to severe drought that affected tropical cyclone and El Nino (rising sea surface temperature), the issues of land and forest fires become an urgent problem to be followed up.

 As an illustration, based on data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (Badan Meteorologi Klimatologi dan Geofisika, BMKG), in Sumatra, 693 hot spots were observed through Modis Satellite. In South Sumatra, there are 613 hot spots, 37 hot spots in Lampung, and 32 hot spots in Jambi. Other than that, there are 9 hotspots in Bangka Belitung and one hot spot in Riau Islands. Other information also mentioned that in Sumatra, there is a company recorded 6 thousand hectares out of a total of 8 thousand hectares of their land burned. Tourism and transportation sectors are also affected by this disaster of dense smoke. In Riau, there were five babies who had to be treated for ARI because of the dense smoke and air quality continues to deteriorate. Airports in the Pacific Islands had close up to 11 hours. In West Sumatra, schools must be closed in order to avoid negative impacts of ARI. Furthermore, the number of patients in a special hospital for lungs treatment in South Sumatra increased dramatically over the past three months, especially pediatric patients and the elderly. In July 2015, 493 cases were recorded and increased to 587 cases in August.

In Borneo (Kalimantan), a similar condition also occurs due to the vulnerability of land and forest to fires. In Palangkaraya, the air cleanliness index has reached a very unhealthy and very dangerous level. Central Kalimantan is most severely affected than other parts of Kalimantan, with visibility of only 100 meters. In South Kalimantan, though after a high rainfall, land and forest fires still occur, so that this area also has a thick smoke, which causes visibility of about 300 meters.

Overcoming the case of land and forest fires, which are getting worse, the police are conducting an investigation into 18 companies. Furthermore, the Army, Police, Fire Department, and other related agencies, the Regional Disaster Management Agency (Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah, BPBD), through the coordination of local government. For example, Central Kalimantan Province has allocated $1.5 billion from its budget to tackle this problem that is getting more severe. Coordination of central and local governments also continues to run in order to cope with heavy smoke and land and forest fires with multidimensional implications and cause a lot of losses. 

Main Cause of the Smoke

Problems of land and forest fires are not new in Sumatra and Kalimantan. This case in 2015 became the tip of an iceberg for the problem of thick smoke in Indonesia. Cases that have occurred in previous periods such as the largest case in the province of Riau, which reached 26,000 hectares (1997-1998) and the impact on neighboring countries, as well as other cases that continue to occur each year, should be a lesson for the local government and relevant policy makers. This should include the companies operating in related areas and surrounding communities. CIFOR study related to the cases of land and forest fires (1998-2003) stated that the main cause of forest fires is land clearing for plantations and timber plantations. Also, changes in government policy related to land use, from the forest to plantations and transmigration. Burning the land also considered as an effective and cheaper way to open a plantation or Industrial Plants Forest (Hutan Tanaman Industri, HTI). Other causes are tenure by the community to open up new lands, spread of wild fires, and some parts of land are abandoned or with expired permission, and are opened and controlled by the community by burning it out.

It should be noted that the case of land and forest fires, as well as thick smoke is one of the effects of the implementation of decentralization and development which ignores the impact on the environment and other aspects, such as health, tourism, education, economics, and so on. Efforts to improve local revenue (PAD) often collide with these considerations. Riau Province in different cases had also experienced this, such as in the case of sand exports to Singapore, which was controversial, because they caused damage to the environment, especially the sea, the source of livelihood of the fishermen in the area.

To overcome various problems means to always bump into the classic problem of bureaucracy and system of the government. Among them is the “sectorial” ego, lack of coordination, also limited funds and expertise. It turns out that decentralization does not necessarily mean the handling of cases such as land and forest fires, as well as heavy smoke becomes easier. It's no secret that budget allocations are more for operations such as personnel expenses rather than for the services. However, as an assumption, such condition should make all local government officials to be able to optimize themselves in performing their duties and functions, either through human resources and other business support facilities.

Furthermore, communications from the authority to the local government to declare a state of emergency seems to be slow, so that the central government cannot directly move to provide assistance. For example, the National Disaster Management Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana, BNPB) should wait for the statements and notices from local authorities before providing assistance in the form of artificial rain and water bombs. Evaluations from The Indonesian Institute, Center for Public Policy Research (TII) in 2013 on disaster management in West Java province also showed lack of coordination between BPBDs at provincial and district level, as well as national level, related to the division of powers and the related working area of the operating disaster management agency. Then again, this shows the dilemmas and challenges in the implementation of decentralization in Indonesia.

Encouraging Community Initiative

To prohibit and stop the development is not a wise way out to overcome the problem of land and forest fires, as well as thick smoke. One thing for sure is that law enforcement becomes absolutely necessary. Inevitably, issues of land and forest fires, as well as thick smoke, mostly caused by human factors as the main actors to cause the fire. Government, particularly law enforcement officials (Law Enforcement Team for Land and Forest Fire Management) must be able to act firmly against the perpetrators of fire indiscriminately. Even if the fires perpetrators involved are public officials, entrepreneurs, as well as security and defense forces. If necessary, with the strong witnesses and evidence, the government should impose the toughest penalty against the arsonists. The government also needs to involve non-state actors such as NGOs and media, as well as technical experts to address this problem.

Related to the local policy, the local government through the supervision of Legislative Council and City Council, as well as civil society must implement policies that are not only pro-development and prosperity, but also pay attention to the impact on the environment. Regulations on spatial area and regions must be applied rigorously and consistently and applies to all stakeholders. Licensing for plantation and Industrial Plants Forest operations must be followed and rigorously implemented especially for land clearing, given the severity of the impact of land and forest fires over the years. If there is evidence of a violation, then the government should not hesitate to take legal action, including revocation of business licenses.

On the other hand, the government should also provide assistance to the people for environmentally friendly land clearing to prevent land and forest fires. This can be done through relevant agencies, such as the agriculture agency and forestry agency, and NGOs, which are concerned with the environment. In addition, if there are local policies applied by the community such as indigenous peoples’ land clearing, it can be input for the government and the land-processing companies, including the public at larger scale. However, in case of violation of land clearing, once again, the government should strictly enforce the law.

Related to the classic problems such as coordination, it has become a compulsory homework for the government to improve communication and coordination with relevant parties. This should be done in various levels of government from central to local levels. If necessary, policies that impede a swift response to the problem should be reviewed, especially in view of the nature of hierarchical bureaucracy, procedural, and requires a foundation of clear rules for action. Furthermore, for preventive action, the government must ensure that important information from relevant bodies, such as BMKG and BPBD, as well as reports from the public, NGOs, and the media can be immediately checked and acted upon, especially since the issues on land and forest fires are not newly occurred and had a serious impact in various fields. To that end, the central and local governments should have the good will and awareness to better allocate adequate budget for preventive measures, responsive, and curative in addressing the problems of land and forest fires. If necessary, the government should also ask for international assistance as needed.

Through these measures, the government is expected to be encouraged to be able to improve performance by addressing the classic problems and applying the principles of good governance in order to perform its functions in optimal, responsive, and relevant manner.

Adinda Muchtar

Adinda Tenriangke Muchtar is Pemimpin Redaksi Suara Kebebasan.org dan Ketua Dewan Pengurus Yayasan Kebebasan Indonesia. Adinda baru menyelesaikan program doktoral di bidang Studi Pembangunan dengan beasiswa New Zealand Aid di Victoria University of Wellington tahun 2017. Ia berminat dalam topik terkait pembangunan, bantuan internasional, dan pemberdayaan perempuan. Adinda adalah Sarjana Ilmu Sosial dari Departemen Hubungan Internasional FISIP UI (2001) dan Master of Internasional Studies (2004) dengan Australia Development Scholarships. Saat ini Adinda juga adalah Direktur Eksekutif The Indonesian Institute, Center for Public Policy Research (TII) di Jakarta. Adinda dapat dihubungi di [email protected] atau Twitter @tenriangke.