Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Jakarta, Feb 22, 2017 (Antara)-  When delivering his State of the Nation Address on August 16, 2016, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) vowed to not tolerate arsonists of peatlands and forests because their acts are considered crimes against humanity.
        The statement particularly referred to the devastating forest and peatland fires of 2015,  which impacted the health of millions in Sumatra and Kalimantan in particular as well as in several neighboring countries. The forest fire disaster cost Indonesia¿s economy an estimated $16.1 billion.  
   The President  has so far kept his promise, as since then the Government has  taken various steps to conserve and restore peatland and prevent it from being set on fire.
        "No more concession permits for palm oil plantations in peatland areas. The government will impose a moratorium," the president said last year.
         In addition, Jokowi also established a Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG)  through Presidential Regulation No. 1/2016 in order to coordinate and accelerate the recovery of peatlands.
           Indonesia's peatlands are estimated to cover an area of 20.6 million hectares, or about 10.8 percent of Indonesia's total land area.
        Peatlands help to preserve water resources, mitigate flooding, prevent sea water intrusion, support biodiversity, and control the climate through carbon absorption and storage.    

     The destruction of peatland areas and forest fires are closely linked, as clearing and draining peatland areas for palm oil and pulpwood plantations are major causes of Indonesia's recurring fire and haze crises.

         Established in January 2016, the BRG has wasted no time in protecting and restoring peatland areas and consequently, preventing wildfires in Indonesian forests.  
    The BRG has been tasked with coordinating and facilitating peatland restoration work in seven provinces - Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and Papua.  
   President Jokowi has asked the agency to also improve governance of the peatland areas in the seven provinces while prioritizing public welfare, apart from preventing forest and land fires.
        Within a five-year period, a total of 2,492,527 ha of peatland should be restored, with the completion target set at 30 percent in 2016; 20 percent each in 2017, 2018, and 2019; and 10 percent in 2020.
          Speaking in Palangkaraya on Feb 2, BRG Chief Nazir Foead expressed optimism that his agency would be able to restore more than 400 thousand hectares (ha) of peatland areas this year.
         "I think some 400 thousand ha is very achievable. It is the president's wish. However, we want to restore more, if possible, to cover the previous backlog of over 300 thousand ha," he remarked, while on a work visit to the provinces of South and Central Kalimantan.
          The agency has allocated funds worth Rp865 billion from the State Budget and Rp500 billion from donors for the implementation of the peatland restoration program in 2017.
         The agency, in cooperation with the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, and several companies, is verifying peatland areas located in 25 concessionary companies that need to be restored.
          Once verification is completed, the agency will send letters of order to the companies for the restoration work.
           Meanwhile, United Nations Development Programme¿s bi-monthly Climate Dialogue in August 2016, confirmed that progress has been made towards peatland restoration in Indonesia: strategic planning is in place, an action plan is in progress, and indicative maps of degraded peatland have been prepared.
          Speaking at the UNDP event,   Nazir Foead elaborated on achievements, challenges, and the way forward for his Agency to restore two million hectares of degraded peatland by 2020.
         The health of peat ecosystems, and the biodiversity they support, is central to the President¿s Nawa Cita (nine priorities) development agenda from social, economic, and environmental perspectives.
         Mapping burnt and degraded peatland is an important step towards restoration. The event was an opportunity for the Agency to share indicative maps of nearly 13 million hectares of peatland in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Papua, and West, East, and Central Kalimantan ¿ where restoration is prioritized.
         Approximately 875,000 hectares in the seven provinces are classified as burnt during the 2015 forest and land fires. The non-burnt land is classified as either peat dome with canals, intact peat dome, or shallow peat (non-dome)- that in part dictate the nature of the restoration activities.
        Foead explained that rewetting, revegetation, and revitalization is the triple-bottom line for all peatland restoration activities.
         The Agency is also working to leverage NGOs, companies, civil society, and the development community to support their efforts.
          Last year,  for the first time Indonesia remained haze-free, after two decades of experiencing annual forest fires that had triggered haze.
           Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya claimed that the number of hotspots from forest and peatland fires had drastically dropped by over 80. ***3***
(T.F001/A/BESSR/A. Abdussalam) 23-02-2017

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