Budget cuts in Indonesia have required the scaling back of fire protection measures for some of the world’s most important tropical forests ahead of a worsening fire season, because of budget cuts due to the coronavirus, the environment ministry said.
The forests are home to more than a tenth of the world’s mammal species – including the rare orangutan – and nearly a fifth of its birds.
Fires, often set to clear land for palm oil plantations in the world’s top producer of the commodity, were the most damaging in years in 2019. It is still early in the June-October dry season, when most land is cleared, to get a clear picture of what is happening this year. But according to an analysis of satellite data, the forest land thought to have been cleared in the first 24 weeks of 2020 was about 400,000 ha, an increase from 300,000 ha in the same period last year.
The economic impact of the coronavirus in the Southeast Asian country meant there had been a 50 per cent budget cut for the firefighters that finds fires and helps put them out, an environment ministry official said.
“Integrated patrol areas had to be cut by 34 per cent,” Basar Manullang, director of forest fire control at the Indonesian environment ministry told Reuters, referring to joint patrols by the forest fire brigade, army, police and civilian volunteers.
The environment and forest minister told parliament this week that an extra US$35 million was needed to fight forest fires this year, while President Joko Widodo called for the tough enforcement of laws to stop illegal fires. “99 per cent of forest fires occur because of humans,” Widodo said.
Last year’s fires were the worst since 2015.