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article imageIndonesia investigating those responsible for forest fires

By Karen Graham     Oct 6, 2015 in Environment
Jakarta - Indonesia has not been a good neighbor to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand this year. Raging forest fires, purposely set as part of a slash-and-burn method of clearing land, have pumped a peaty white smoke across the region, sickening millions.
This week in peninsular Malaysia, 7,000 schools were shut down, forcing four million students to stay home. Last week, at the Swimming World Cup meet in Singapore, 15 final races had to be cancelled. So far, 68 flights have had to be cancelled, all due to the thick haze.
Reuben Wong, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore, told the Associated Press on Tuesday, "Indonesia needs to keep to its commitments. Regionally, countries are getting fed up that Indonesia is not coordinating this very well."
In a recent story in Digital Journal, NASA predicted this year's fires in Indonesia are on track to be among the worst on record. It is believed the current crisis could surpass the disaster of 1997, when levels of pollution soared to record highs in an environmental disaster that cost US $9 billion.
Many of the fires in Indonesia are caused by slash-and-burn land clearing techniques to grow crops s...
Many of the fires in Indonesia are caused by slash-and-burn land clearing techniques to grow crops such as palm oil, a key ingredient in everyday grocery items, from shampoo to biscuits
Adek Berry, AFP
According to the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, there are 1,687 forest fires burning on the giant island of Sumatra, that parallels the western coastline of Malaysia and surrounds Singapore, and in Kalimantan, a province on Borneo island. The smoke from the fires can reach as far as Thailand, depending on which way the winds blow.
Indonesia knows who the culprits are in this environmental disaster
Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, the director of forest fire control in Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry told the AP everyone knows who is responsible for the fires. The culprits are big corporations, who find it more profitable to set fire to the forests so the peat-filled soil can be planted with palm oil trees and trees for paper pulp..
"For them, burning the forest is the fastest, cheapest and most profitable method instead of clearing with heavy equipment. Our regulation is clear — no burning of forests — but they violate the law for the sake of profits," he said.He went on to describe the burning land as a "vast smoldering stove," with coal burning up to 10 meters (33 feet) deep.
What has Indonesia done about this illegal burning?
The slash-and-burn of Indonesia's forest has been going on for years. But with the increased demand for palm oil around the world, the burning of forests has become too profitable to make corporations put a halt to the burning. The Indonesian government say they have 191 individuals and 47 corporations under investigation.
Deforestation in Riau province  Sumatra  to make way for an oil palm plantation. Photo taken in 2007...
Deforestation in Riau province, Sumatra, to make way for an oil palm plantation. Photo taken in 2007.
One company's license has been revoked while three other companies have had their licenses suspended. An additional 77 people have been arrested. A palm oil company, with links to Australia is also under investigation, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Kayung Agro Lestari, which has a palm oil plantation in Ketapang regency in West Kalimantan, is one of the 47 companies being investigated over the forest fires.
The company, according to Indonesian police, is an Australian PMA (foreign direct investment) company. However, a spokesman for Kayung Agro Lestari said it was incorrect to refer to the company as an Australian company because only 0.01 per cent was owned by an Australian.
So while the investigations continue, the forest fires also continue, making millions of people sick, pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and creating an economic, health and environmental disaster.
More about indonesia fires, 240 suspects, 42 companies, pollution disaster, millions sickened
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