Just over a year ago, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of Indonesia – one of the biggest emitters along with the US, China and India – visited a local community affected by the forest fires and vowed to tackle the devastating crisis. But with parts of the country being blanketed in toxic smoke over the past few months, local communities, volunteers and activists can’t damn stand it anymore! So they’re taking action into their own hands.
Local villagers, NGO activists and volunteers build a community dam to block a canal that is draining peatlands for plantations in Paduran Village, Central Kalimantan province, Indonesia. The province has been the epicentre of Indonesia’s 2015 forest fires disaster.
Earlier this year Muhammad “Benny” Prasetiya, a student of film and television at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts, was living deep in a forested area of Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. He spent a month there, gaining inspiration from nature and making friends with local villagers. As luck would have it, he returned to Jakarta shortly before forest fires took hold in the province, ravaging peat forests and destroying livelihoods. But now he’s back to help the people of the province he’s grown to love.
“For a while, the forest was my home and I want to protect it,” says Benny. “I’m helping to build a dam to block the canal that is draining this peatland, ‘cause I want to see it restored back to its original wetland condition.”
On a deep peatland dome east of Central Kalimantan’s Sebangau National Park, volunteers like Benny have set up camp with local villagers and NGO activists. For a fortnight they worked day and night to dam a peatland drainage canal to restore the dried-out wetland and prevent future fires. Along with local NGOs Save our Borneo and the Center for International Cooperation in Sustainable Management of Tropical Peatland (CIMTROP) from the University of Palangkaraya, they’re combining traditional knowledge with enthusiasm and an ecological science perspective, aiming to bring about a lasting change.
Long and large sticks of wood are stuck in to the canal, which helps to slow the flow of water, keeping the peat wet and reducing the risk of fire
As one of the last remaining peat swamp forests in Borneo as well as home to endangered orangutans, nearby Sebangau National Park has unfortunately been encroached on by palm oil plantations and illegal logging. For some of the participants in the action, the reality of what they’re seeing is too close to home.
“At first, I thought the forest would be just fine, but after seeing first hand the damage that the fires have done I feel sad,” said Enung Karwati, a teacher and mother of two. “I would like to be more hands-on in the future, like educating my students about the importance of forest and peatland conservation.”
Enung, wearing the white veil takes part in the community damming action. Forest and peatland destruction, mainly for plantations, is both a major cause of forest fires and the source of Indonesia’s largest contribution to climate change.
Dry peatlands are prime fuel for forest fires. Canals are built to drain peatlands in order to establish plantations for crops like palm oil that can’t grow in the wet. But once the peatlands are drained, they burn with a smouldering flame that releases huge quantities of smoke and carbon.
Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 31 million hectares of forest, an area nearly the size of Germany due in large part to its role as the world’s largest producer of palm oil. Despite the introduction in 2011 of a government-imposed moratorium on granting new plantation or timber concessions on primary forests and peatlands, the national deforestation rate has risen.
From peatlands to Paris – your voice delivered
We know that international attention is leading the government to take action on the issue. In his leader’s speech at this year’s climate talks in Paris, Jokowi promised to halt new development on peatlands, restore burnt areas, and review permits of existing peatlands plantations.
But so far there are no binding rules on this, nor sanctions for companies that violate the policy. In his focus on peatlands, the President has also left forests off the reform agenda.
That’s why in Paris we delivered YOUR MESSAGE to President Jokowi, calling for forest and peatland protection to stop the fires for good. Over 250,000 people signed our petition – standing up for all the men, women and children who have been been breathing the toxic smoke, and demanding an end to the destruction of endangered orangutan habitat.
Greenpeace Indonesia campaigners meet with President Jokowi at COP21 Paris, handing over a petition signed by 253,800 people around the world
Continual global pressure is needed to ensure to ensure the fires don’t take off again – yet they’re being predicted for early next year. Protecting forests is key to stopping catastrophic climate change, and the battle starts in the forests like those of Kalimantan.
Yuyun Indradi is a Forest Campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia
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