Indonesia Is Still Burning.

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Indonesia Is Still Burning

Please click on the following link to read the full article and see all the disturbing photographs.  Only part of the text is repeated below.

http://www.takepart.com/feature/2016/04/18/palmoil?cmpid=tp-eml-2016-04-27-fftf

Reproduced from a takepart article – 28/4/16.  Link above.

Apr 18, 2016

Michael Kodas is the associate director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder and the author of High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed and the upcoming book Megafire.

palm oil fire

KENYALA, Indonesia—The orange-furred toddler survived one of the most destructive wildfires on record, but with a plastic tube leashing her neck to the porch of a small hut, she hardly appears to have found salvation. A villager, Kasuan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, found the orangutan cowering from wild dogs last fall, perched in one of the surviving oil palm trees in a scorched plantation near the burned forest that had been her home. The rest of her family, Kasuan tells me, perished in the epic forest fires that overtook Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, as woodlands were burned to make room for plantations that harvest palm oil, a $50 billion business. The ubiquitous ingredient is used in half of the packaged food and cosmetic products found on supermarket shelves, from Oreo cookies to Colgate toothpaste. At least nine of the highly endangered primates died during last year’s conflagrations. Three weeks before I arrive in March, three more orangutans, all of them female and one of them a baby, burned to death when the annual fires ignited months early.

“If we didn’t rescue the orangutan from the haze and the fires, it would die like the others,” Erni, Kasuan’s wife, says. When the ape, which they named Sumbing, wasn’t tied to the post, Erni carried her like one of her own children. “I hope I can look after it and keep it healthy.”

But the couple has no idea how to care for her when she grows into an adult weighing well over 100 pounds, if the animal survives that long. Compared with wild orangutans I’ve photographed, Sumbing’s hair and limbs look thin, and she seems frightened and depressed. She snaps at me when I first arrive but calms down when I pat her, and eventually she takes my hand for a moment. “I hope there are some authorities that will come to take care of the orangutan,” Kasuan says, contradicting his wife’s hopes, “because we can’t feed it what it needs.”

FULL COVERAGE: Fight for the Forests

The orangutan population has fallen 50 percent over the past 60 years to around 50,000 individuals, and 55 percent of its habitat has been lost to palm oil plantations, logging, and other development since the 1990s. Rescue workers from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation plan to visit the village to take the would-be pet to one of their sanctuaries for rehabilitation and reintroduction into the wild. But they had better arrive soon. Another baby orangutan held by villagers here was reportedly sold to a manager at a nearby palm oil plantation, likely for resale into the illegal pet trade. The foundation is rapidly running out of forests in which to release rehabilitated orangutans. Nonetheless, at least one villager thinks the orangutan is better off than the humans here.

“If I could change into an orangutan, I would,” says the villager, who is named Langkai TN. He pointed out how much attention the international press gives the redheaded primates while ignoring the suffering of indigenous communities such as his. He endured months of smoke, lost farm fields to the fires, and was sent to jail for six months when he marked the boundaries of his land to keep rapidly expanding palm oil plantations from taking his property. “If I was an orangutan, maybe you would carry me out of here,” Langkai TN says.

Last fall, most of the human and animal residents of Borneo were trying to escape the smoke and flames overtaking the third-largest island in the world. For more than 20 years, Indonesia’s annual burning season has devastated human health, endangered animals, and accelerated climate change. The fires are even worse when El Niño brings drought to the nation, and last year’s record El Niño drove infernos with near biblical intensity.

The conflagrations, according to conservationists, threaten one-third of the world’s remaining wild orangutans, as well as the nation’s highly endangered clouded leopards, sun bears, Sumatran tigers, rhinos, and elephants. But the impacts of the fires spread far beyond the burning forests and peatlands.

Last year Indonesian smoke, an annual blight on the region known as “the haze,” forced more than half a million people as far away as Thailand to seek treatment for severe respiratory problems. Indonesia dispatched warships to evacuate villagers who were trapped for months in the toxic orange fog but not before at least 19 people, most of them children, choked to death. The World Bank estimates last year’s fires cost Indonesia at least $16 billion, more than twice the price tag of the 2004 tsunami that devastated the country’s Aceh province. On 40 days last fall, wildfires in Indonesia released more greenhouse gas than the entire United States economy.

Environmental activists in the West tend to focus on saving Indonesia’s forests and wildlife by pressuring multinational corporations to buy sustainably produced palm oil. The reality on the ground, though, is more complex and offers a lesson for those fighting for forests around the world. Corruption, a dysfunctional legal system, and the role of thousands of small farmers in the burning all fan the flames of the fires set by palm oil producers. Increasingly, Indonesians are taking matters into their own hands to fight the fires at their source, the carbon-rich peatlands that underlie Borneo’s and Sumatra’s forests and that can spontaneously ignite an inferno. And the key to fighting palm oil deforestation maybe something as simple as a map.

The Fires Below

Indigenous Indonesians like those in Kenyala have practiced slash-and-burn agriculture for centuries, but the nation’s apocalyptic fires only started burning 20 years ago. Late in his long dictatorship, Indonesian President Suharto attempted to end food shortages in the world’s fourth-most-populous nation by carving a rice farm the size of Connecticut out of the vast peat swamps of Kalimantan. In the late 1990s, his Mega Rice Project cut 2,920 miles of canals through the landscape to drain the soggy peat. When it was dry, the peat was a rich mulch for farming but also an enormous bed of woody fuel for fires.

Since then, most of the greenhouse gases, haze, and volatility of Indonesia’s infernos have originated not in the dense rainforest but in the peat—the spongy layer of partially decayed and waterlogged vegetation that extends as far down as 60 feet beneath many of the forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Peatlands hold up to 28 times more carbon, accumulated over centuries, than rainforests growing on mineral soil. The peat is about as carbon rich as the coal it will turn into. As in coal seams, fires in peat can burn for years, can travel in unpredictable directions underground, and are notoriously difficult to locate and snuff unless the peat is kept wet.

Suharto’s project has produced mega-fires virtually every year since the first canals cut into the peat but no rice.

In the years since, large Indonesian and foreign corporations and small farmers alike have dug thousands more canals to convert peatlands to palm oil plantations. That’s turned one of the planet’s most effective carbon sinks into one of its biggest sources of climate-warming gases. A single acre of peatland rainforest can release 15,000 tons of carbon when it’s converted into a palm plantation. If the dry peat ignites, it can release the carbon it has been accumulating for centuries in a matter of days.

Flying into Sumatra on a visit in August 2014, I saw grids of canals beneath clouds of smoke, but I didn’t understand how they were connected until I landed and traveled into the palm oil plantations of Riau province. With my first step off the road, I sank up to my shin in the peat.

Fires deep in peatlands are extremely difficult to reach on foot, and the techniques used by American wildland firefighters—digging a line of unburnable mineral soil around the blaze—don’t work where the ground itself is a deep bed of wood chips. Peat fires can burn undetected for weeks, burrowing beneath unburned forests and rising randomly to ignite the jungle.

Related

Going to Pot

At one blaze that has been burning for weeks I joined a dozen men in flip-flops and T-shirts from a collective of small farmers. They dug 10 feet into the peat to reach groundwater but struggled for an hour to draw enough water for a single hose to spray down the smoky forest. They never ventured far from the road to engage the fire.

I could see why when I made my way across burned and rotting logs that bridge canals and occasionally sank to my knees in the drained peat. Smoke rose from the ground to my north and south and sometimes from my footprints. I stood on something akin to a field of charcoal that could ignite beneath me at any moment.

Down the road I saw a farmer named Sarino strip to his threadbare briefs and jump into a canal with a small bucket to throw water on the flaming peat in his fields. After he climbed out, he stomped the embers with his bare feet. Behind him, one of three helicopters fighting the blazes overtaking Riau dropped buckets of water on a burning acacia plantation. “The helicopter has been coming for almost two months to fight the fires,” Sarino told me. He said he doesn’t know who ignited the fire, but it started near the plantation.

Sarino raises an Indonesian vegetable called caladi, along with oranges, cassava, limes, and bananas, but, he said, no oil palm. Seedlings of the tree, however, filled dozens of pots sitting between his house and the burning field. I wondered whether he would soon add palm to his portfolio of crops. And whether he might have started the fire he was trying to snuff. Almost all of the fires in Indonesia are started by humans, most of them clearing fields for farms and plantations.


Images and links from the past that we have produced on this site in relation to palm oil devastation.

palm oil 2

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2010/10/02/palm-oil-how-you-as-a-consumer-can-make-a-difference/

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2016/02/18/more-good-news-palm-oil-starbucks-announce-commitment-to-extend-palm-oil-policy/   

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2015/04/18/usa-kfc-is-the-latest-company-to-release-a-new-deforestation-free-palm-oil-commitment/palm oil 3

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2014/01/16/indonesia-palm-oil-company-gets-what-it-deserves-for-destroying-orangutans-home/

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2013/06/30/indonesia-robbed-of-its-forest-home-by-palm-oil-producers-a-mob-has-now-taken-the-baby-elephant-captive-and-held-it-to-ransom-the-real-side-of-palm-oil-production/

palm oil 4

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2016/01/27/usa-super-bowl-and-destroyed-rainforests-you-bet-there-is-a-link/

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2015/10/24/borneo-orangutans-are-dying-as-indonesia-burns/

https://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2015/01/31/indonesia-england-after-a-year-inside-a-chicken-cage-a-baby-orangutan-gets-a-second-chance/

palm oil greenpeace uk

 

 

 

 

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