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Fires in Indonesia worsen climate change

09-Oct-2006

Now the dry season has started, wildfires are occurring in several places in Sumatra and Kalimantan. They are already so large that parts of peninsular Malaysia are becoming covered with smoke. The fires are not just caused by farmers who burn their fields; they are the result of extensive drainage by companies of the naturally wet peat forest areas.
 

In recent years, huge areas of peat-swamp forest have been drained by digging canals. These have enabled clearance of land for logging and agriculture by providing drier conditions and access to the forest. Once the forest has been cleared; the drainage continues and the deep peat soil underneath dries out. Drainage is also carried out in order to convert the area into oil palm plantations. This is an extremely unsustainable activity in peatland areas. Oil palm needs a depth of at least 70 cm of dry soil and this drained layer of organic peat quickly decomposes (through oxidation) and disappears, even without fires

A local, regional and global problem

The destruction of the peatlands is a disaster for the people in the area, is causing major pollution problems in the region and is a great threat to the survival of the Orang Utan, but is also a global problem. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted, equal to the total annual emissions of Great Brittain. This climate problem is largely still unknown. Wetlands International is attending the UN-FCCC conference in Nairobi in November this year to get attention for this problem.

Our work in peatland areas
Wetlands International has currently two major projects in peatlands in Indonesia.

Berbak-Sembilang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
This wetland area consists of two adjacent national parks with mangrove, freshwater swamp and peat-swamp forests bordering the Sumatran coast. The peat-swamp areas are heavily degraded. The project provides rewards to local people when they take action to achieve sustainable peatland management because this supports the whole region and the global environment. 

Central Kalimantan Peatland Project.
Under this project Wetlands International, together with BOSF, CARE, WWF and the University of Palangka Raya, restores the water table in logged and drained peat-swamp forests in areas in Central Kalimantan by closing drainage canals. This prevents oxidation of the peat and wildfires in the dry season that would lead to the irreversible destruction of the area.

For more information:

Alex Kaat (communication manager)
+31 6 50601917

Marcel Sivius
Wetlands International

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