JAKARTA, Indonesia – The smog engulfing several provinces in Kalimantan and Sumatra Islands are already at threatening levels causing the death of a minor last 10 September 2015.
The pollutant fumes have caused decreased air quality and an increase in number of Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) cases in several communities. Each year, there is an increase in the number of victims as the Air Pollution Standards Index worsens. In Riau province in 2013, there was a total of 19,862 patients of ARI, which further rose to 27,200 in 2014. In addition, as an effect of the smog, people cannot work comfortably and safely thus many have stopped going to work while children stopped going to school.
There were 184 fires in the concession area of 36 companies and 72 sources of fire in the conservation area in Riau last June. The biggest source of fire is from the concession area of the Sinar Mas Group company with its PT. Arara Abadi accounting for 19 fires and PT Satria Agung Perkasa with 17. Meanwhile, April Group’s RAPP accounts for 22 fires.
In East Kalimantan, at least 2,470 hotspots have been reported last June while there were 195 in Central Kalimantan from January to August. The most number of hotspots belongs to PT. Tunggal Perkasa Tower with 241 in August and 14 in July. PT. Sangkowong Sinta ranks second with 179 hotspots in August and three in July. Both come from the Pulau Pisang district. PT. Globalindo Alam Perkasa is third with 119 hotspots in the East Kotawaringin district. Forest fires also occurred in West Kalimantan.
According to the Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria or Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA), the fires did not occur naturally, but were caused by the deliberate massive burning by the plantations to open up new territories under their concessions.
“The source of the problem of the smog has occurred since the 1980s with increasing land monopoly under the control of tree plantation companies and oil palm plantations. In fact, the fires are happening in the concession areas of these companies with and the largest burning in the areas controlled by the Sinar Mas group plantation companies,” AGRA Secretary General Rahmat Ajiguna explained.
Rahmat further noted that “the government is not seriously addressing the smog problem. Government’s efforts only focused on fire extinguishing instead of fire prevention. Worse, government even prosecutes and criminalizes the peasants while the victims of smog are ignored.”
Therefore, AGRA urges the government to handle seriously the smog caused by forest fires. First, the government must declare this smog problem as national disaster. Second, the governments must conduct emergency response not only to extinguish the fire but to address the needs of the victims. Third, victims of the smog problem should be provided compensation as well as safe evacuation shelters with free adequate social services such as free health care, medicine, food and water. Fourth, the government should revoke the old plantation permit and stop issuing new permit licenses for plantations. Owners and investors of plantations should also be held accountable.
“We challenge the Jokowi-JK administration to heed these four demands to prove that government is serious resolving the issue of smog and forest fires. The people’s movement will continue to expose and oppose land monopoly as the root cause of smog and forest fire.” Rahmat ended.
Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA)