Haze epicenter receives environmental award in Indonesia

Siak is one of 143 cities and districts across the archipelago to get one of this year’s Adipura Awards.

The Indonesian government on Friday bestowed the annual Adipura Awards to 143 cities and districts across the country. The awards, conceived as an incentive for local governments to commit to green and clean management, were presented in Siak, Riau province, on the island of Sumatra.

This year marks the first time the prizes were awarded outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, according to environment and forestry minister Siti Nurbaya, who attended the ceremony with vice president Jusuf Kalla and four other ministers.

“We chose Riau, particularly Siak, because so far the environmental issue stands out. There are problems of land and forest fires, land conflicts. All of this has caught the attention of the central government,” Siti told reporters on Thursday.

Siak not only received the honor of hosting the ceremony; it also won the award — the only district in Riau which received the award.

The province is notoriously an epicenter of the annual forest and peatland fires which last year led Indonesia to declare a state of emergency during the extended dry season brought on by El Nino.

The petroleum-rich province has seen an expansion in oil palm plantations over the last decade, in addition to timber and pulpwood industries. Illegal burning to open land for cultivation, by both large companies and small farmers, is the leading cause of the fires.

Despite the environmental problems plaguing the province, Siak managed to receive the coveted Adipura, as well as a plaque for its municipal park, local news reported.

This area has varied topics on environmental regulation and management, as well as forestry, that are good and important to be learned by other regions in Indonesia.

Siti Nurbaya, environment and forestry minister, Indonesia

 

The decision to highlight Siak may incentivise other regions to learn from the district’s successes, Siti said.

“This area has varied topics on environmental regulation and management, as well as forestry, that are good and important to be learned by other regions in Indonesia,” she said in a statement.

But as this year’s burning season gets underway, the rest of the province continues to struggle to manage its land and forests.

On July 6, the province clocked in the most fire-linked hotspots in the country, with 64 hotspots seen by satellite. Disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at the time that most of the hotspots, which were also found elsewhere in Sumatra and Kalimantan, were caused by intentional burning.

Riau residents formally lodged a complaint in March, demanding that the government do more to prevent haze and better enforce environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, the province remains under emergency watch for forest and land fires, which the government extended until November.

Siak’s success may merely be a small triumph in the province’s long march towards real environmental progress.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.

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