Illegal Fires in Sumatra Escalate, Creating Regional Air Pollution Crisis

posted by Rainforest Action Network

Illegal Fires in Tripa Blazing Again. Photo: www.EndofTheIcons.wordpress.comTragically, we just received a breaking report from our allies at the End of the Icons Coalition that at least 20 major fires and dozens of smaller ones are again sweeping through the Tripa rainforest in Sumatra, one of the world’s most ecologically important forests. Despite overwhelming international pressure to restore Tripa, which led to a National Police investigation being launched into the crimes of Tripa in May, another firestorm at the hands of palm oil companies is sweeping through the critically threatened Tripa Peat Forest of Sumatra right now. As if the first hundred weren’t bad enough, the 86 documented fire hotspots since May 3 are not only making the extinction of the critically endangered Sumtran orangutan a more imminent reality but also creating a regional air quality crisis. As reported in the New York Times last week, the haze resulting from the illegal fires in Sumatra is so severe in surrounding countries that Halimah Hassan, director general of Malaysia’s Department of Environment, says readings on the air pollution index exceed the threshold for “unhealthy”, prompting the department to warn people to wear masks. My colleague Laurel Sutherlin experienced this apocalyptic inferno last year and wrote a moving personal account of what is now considered widely commonplace in Indonesia at the beginning of every dry season, which starts in July. He wrote:

Global climate change is usually an abstraction — a concept that must be imagined or made academic to understand. But here, it’s in your face, tangible and acute. Incredibly, Indonesia has become the world’s third largest carbon polluting country, behind only the US and China — and 80% of those emissions are the result of deforestation.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in Singapore, as well, the air quality reached “unhealthy” levels last Thursday as the city-state became enveloped in haze from fires in neighboring Indonesia’s Sumatra island. Check out the unbelievable before and after photos taken in downtown Singapore. The main source of smoke, according to researchers, are fires set on palm oil and rubber plantations, primarily in Sumatra, to get rid of old trees and to clear land for new plantations. Supposedly it’s much faster and easier to open forest for establishing new plantations through fire, exemplary of the mentality of profit-driven palm oil companies who demonstrate complete disregard for the health of forests or its inhabitants. Although clearing land by burning is illegal and banned as an acceptable practice in Indonesia, the laws are rarely, if ever, enforced. Please sign this petition to demand that Indonesia President SBY order an immediate halt to all destruction in Tripa — to stop the land clearing and fires burning in critical orangutan habitat and to immediately block the canals that continue to destroy Tripa at this very moment.