{News} 080624 Villagers learn to fight forest fires

Villagers learn to fight forest fires

Benget Besalicto Tnb. , Contributor , Seruyan, Central Kalimantan Tue, 06/24/2008 10:01 AM Environment

The lingering rainy season this year may mean people have forgotten the big problems triggered by forest fires. But the problem is fresh in the mind of Asron.

The 45-year-old recently attended a forest fire awareness training program in Terawan village of Seruyan regency, Central Kalimantan.

"I come from a village behind this club house," he said, referring to an Agro Group's building which is sandwiched between leafy palm oil plantation to the west and sparse forest to the east.
Asron was one out of 200 people taking part in the program jointly organized by the Agro Group, WWF Indonesia, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), Care International, Indonesian Council for Palm Oil (DMSI), Association of Indonesian and Malaysian Palm Oil Investors (AIPIMI) and Forestry Ministry's Natural Resources Conservation Board (BKSDA).
Most of the participants live around forests or palm oil plantations in Seruyan and Kotawaringin Timur regencies, Central Kalimantan.

"It's still rainy season, but we've been reminded that sooner or later the dry season will come. That's the time when fires are prone to happen," he said.

Forest fires have turned into an annual disaster across the archipelago, mostly on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, with the most severe ones occuring in 1982-83, 1987, 1991, 1994 and 1997-98.

Forest fires in 1997-98 alone were estimated to have ravaged about 8 million hectares of forest with a total estimated economic loss of US$3 billion.

But the losses do not stop there. The fires also cause health problems, disrupted air and sea transportation, bring haze to neighboring countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines, and damage biodiversity.

The above countries have repeatedly protested Indonesia over the haze engulfing parts of its areas disrupting their air and sea transportation.

During the peak of these forest fires, the media reported that in several cities in Sumatra and Kalimantan many local people suffered from respiratory diseases, forcing the local governments to distribute masks and ban people from going outside their houses.

"It is to help prevent such occurrences that we organize the training," said Sanjay Upasena, the director of sustainability at Argo Group subsidiary Agro Indomas.

He said the training was aimed at increasing awareness and the involvement of the general public, especially locals, in preventing and tackling forest fires.

The training, he said, is also part of his company's corporate social responsibility.
"This training is not just a day to observe the environment. We need to remind people ... that forest fires can cause big problems and have to be prevented," Sanjay said.

The group has also designed a number of environmental and social programs.
"Such programs are particularly important considering the Central Kalimantan province is one of the main hot spots in this country," he said.

According to data from the WWF, during the period of 1997 to 2006 most of the country's hot spots were located in five provinces. The five provinces are Central Kalimantan, the highest with 111,803 hot spots, followed by Riau with 87,572 hot spots, then South Sumatra with 68,129 hot spots, West Kalimantan with 66,691 hot spots and East Kalimantan with 52,644 hot spots.

The conservation group says that last year, the hot spots dropped by about 78 percent, but mostly due to natural factors such as rain. This year, the rainy season still continues in June, the time when the dry season should have already started.

Bahrun, a native of Kalimantan's Dayak tribe who lives in Terawan village of Seruyan regency in Central Kalimantan, said the rainy season would linger longer this year.

"I can assure you that as I've noticed white mushrooms still growing on the roots along the riverbanks here. They are the harbinger of rainy seasons," he said.

"But the white mushrooms will be gone soon. That will be the time when the dry season finally comes. It's the time that we should be vigilant as the forests here are easily razed by fire," he said.

He said he felt happy taking part in the training program and vowed that he would do his best to detect, prevent and tackle forest fires around the village.

"As an ordinary person, I can inform the companies operating around here or the firefighters if I see a fire. Early information will help prevent the fire from spreading."

Considering that forest fires are mostly man-made disasters, people's participation is crucial.
At the training, Seruyan Regent Darwan Ali and Kotawaringin Timur Regent Wahyudi K. Anwar both underlined the importance of such participation.

"Companies alone can not detect all fires. You need to cooperate with locals to detect fires as early as possible so that firefighters can tackle them," Darwan Ali said.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/06/24/villagers-learn-fight-forest-fires.html


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