The Indonesian government has been kept busy this whole year, as the country grapples with numerous environmental disasters and pandemic threats to an unprecedented degree.
Apart from pressures exerted by the international community and neighbouring ASEAN states that spur reflection by the archipelago nation, promising steps are also underway to step up on preventive action and vigilance on the environment for the coming year.
Environment Minister, R. Witoelar’s comments displayed an unusual resolve by the government to manage its environmental problems earlier this week. He told reporters that the government has adopted a three-pronged strategy to contain the fires within the next two years, after admitting that the haze problem has been around for 30 years The strategy includes raising the water level on peat land to put out the fires by damming irrigation channels, confiscating plantation land responsible for forest fires, and using large amphibious planes, leased from Russia, for fire-fighting efforts.
In support of the Indonesian government’s new resolve as part of its ‘war’ on haze, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told PAP cadres on December 3 that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is serious about tackling the causes of the haze problem. PM Lee also expressed the hope that Singapore’s adoption of a regency in Jambi would yield positive results.
Besides the haze, Minister Witoelar also gave a sombre assessment of East Java’s mud volcano problem, saying that it could be years before it stops flowing. "As I speak, we have not gotten to the stage that we can stop the flow, so what is assigned to my ministry is to try to prevent further destruction...," Witoelar told a Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club lunch."Actually no one can say how long it will last, but we can relieve [the victims] from suffering by making efforts for them to start new lives, which is now being done…I hope that it will come to an end. I personally think that those people who demand this compensation should be given compensation, whatever the cost," he was quoted by AFP as saying.
Elsewhere, another ‘environmental’ accounting near the end of this year came from a presidential decision to ban sand exports from Riau to Singapore, despite protests from sand quarrying companies in the Karimun, Lingga and Bintan regencies.
Sand quarrying has been criticized by environmental activists for destroying ecologically sensitive habitats and causing coastal erosion. Abandoned quarries also pose a danger to people because they are not properly rehabilitated after use. Many are also breeding grounds for dengue-carrying mosquitoes.
The companies have called on the Riau Islands Governor, Ismeth Abdullah, to review the policy “because it has caused considerable damage to firms bound by purchase contracts with buyers in Singapore”. In addition, the industry has also contributed significant revenues to regency administrations, which received S$3.30 for each cubic meter of exported sand. Provincial administration spokesman Muhammad Nur said in response that Governor Ismeth was only carrying out the President's orders.
Another tsunami supposedly also loomed in the background as Indonesian researchers predicted that another major wave could hit Sumatra within the next few decades. According to the US-based team at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and elsewhere, the same big geologic fault, called a megathrust, that caused the 2004 tsunami continues to run parallel to the southeast, along the Indian Ocean coast of Sumatra. This is likely to lead to another catastrophic quake triggering a wave in which “potential losses could be as great as those that occurred in Aceh in 2004." The researchers whose report was published in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also added that they “hope that these initial results will help focus educational efforts, emergency preparedness activities, and changes in the basic infrastructure of cities and towns along the Sumatran coast.”In its fight against bird flu, the Indonesian government received a boost from the Australian government. The latter promised funds worth 18.5 million Australian dollars in aid to help control the spread of diseases to animals, promote the people’s awareness of the dangers of bird flu, and stepping up control of other pandemic diseases affecting human beings and animals.
The Australian government would send experts to the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry and Health Ministry to help improve national policies and plans on efforts to prevent the spread of the diseases. In turn, the Indonesian government will also be expected to cooperate with different Australian institutions in responding to diseases, epidemiology and animal husbandry in the hope that cooperation would increase the reliability of laboratory and hospital personnel in dealing with bird flu cases.
Indonesia aims to contain forest fires in a few years (Reuters/The Straits Times, 4 December 2006)
Yudhoyono serious about war on haze (The Straits Times, 4 December 2006)
Light through the haze (The Straits Times, 4 December 2006)
Jakarta to stop haze in 2 years (TODAY, 5 December 2006)
Riau Islands halts all sand exports (The Jakarta Post, 5 December 2006)
Indonesian "mud volcano" could flow for years (Antara, 5 December 2006)
Another tsunami could hit Indonesia, experts say (Antara, 6 December 2006)
Australia provides RI with more fund to fight bird flu (Antara, 6 December 2006)