Budget limits recovery of burned peatland

JAKARTA • Indonesia's government may only have the capacity to restore less than 5 per cent of the total peatland area burned this year, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has said, citing the limited allocation of funds from the state Budget.

The ministry estimated that this year's forest fires - allegedly caused by burning from both small and large holders of plantation concessions - have destroyed around 2.6 million hectares of land, with 53 per cent of it located in peatland areas. Blazes from peatlands are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

"We have to be realistic in proposing something. If we are provided with more funds, we could restore more than 5 per cent of the destroyed peatlands," the ministry's environmental pollution and damage control director-general, Mr Karliansyah, told The Jakarta Post.

Last month, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla confirmed a plan to restore at least two million hectares of peatlands destroyed by decades of unscrupulous practices. The restoration costs are estimated to top 50 trillion rupiah (S$5 billion) over the next five years.

However, Mr Karliansyah said that restoring a mere 5 per cent of burned peatlands would cost taxpayers up to 30 trillion rupiah and may take five years to complete, highlighting the astronomical cost and impact of forest fires to the environment. This, he said, includes the cost needed to block canals and restore vegetation, hiring staff to manage the water gates to the canals, as well as the amount set aside to increase people's awareness of forest fires.

Mr Karliansyah added that the government has excluded concessions owned by big holders from the 5 per cent restoration programme. Firms whose areas have been burned by the recent fires will have to bear the responsibility to restore their land using their own money, he said. "Even though the regulation states that the burned lands could be taken over by the state, the responsibility (to restore the lands) is still with the companies," he said.

This year's forest fires affected millions across South-east Asia, surpassing the 1997 and 2013 crises, and hitting the Indonesian economy with billions of dollars in lost business and health costs.

THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2015, with the headline 'Budget limits recovery of burned peatland'. Print Edition | Subscribe