Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo reiterated on Thursday his intention to move toward a stronger moratorium on peatland development, saying the government will look to restore some of the desiccated swamps and block canals used by agribusiness to drain them.
“We must restructure the peatland ecosystem,” Jokowi told journalists on Thursday evening. “I have instructed the environment and forestry minister to not issue any more permits on peatlands and to immediately begin revitalization.”
The president was speaking from the South Sumatra capital of Palembang after returning early from an official visit to the US to attend to the wildfire crisis back home.
“On blocking canals, we are going to block them so the water stays,” Jokowi said. “The peat will stay wet – that is what the government is going to do.”
Greenpeace said companies need to escalate their response to fires in their concessions.
“The president’s decision to fight the fires by protecting forests and peatlands and enforcing the law is a good first step,” said Longgena Ginting, the NGO’s Indonesia director. “Now palm oil and pulp companies, whose decades of forest and peatland destruction have caused today’s fires, must respond in kind.
“Companies must work around the clock to put out fires, build fire breaks and block drainage canals. Everything else must be put on hold until the crisis is under control.”
Jokowi and Luhut Pandjaitan, the minister leading Indonesia’s firefighting and humanitarian operation, have made increasingly robust pledges over the last week but the State Palace has yet to codify the measures in a legally binding presidential decree.
In addition to enforcing a ban on new licenses to operate on peat and exploring the revocation of existing ones where development has yet to begin, Jokowi said on Thursday the government would look to restore peatlands in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
“We support this commitment but we push the government to review and audit all of the concessions licensed on peatlands in Indonesia,” the director of the Riau province office for the Indonesia Forum on the Environment (Walhi), Riko Kurniawan, told Mongabay on Friday afternoon.
“We especially welcome government support for peatland restoration,” said Longgena.
Air quality has moderated since Wednesday morning after overnight rains in many parts of the archipelago dispersed some pollution. But fires continue to burn in South Sumatra, data from Global Forest Watch showed on Friday afternoon.
The governor of East Java told Mongabay he has instructed officials to get on top of fires burning in areas hit by drought.
“I’ve asked the heads of the BPBDs [local offices of the disaster management agency] to prepare aid,” said East Java Governor Soekarwo. “I’ve already contacted the head of Lumajang regency to handle the fires on Mount Semeru.”
Construction in East Java combined with severe drought have virtually depleted the province’s water table and created highly flammable conditions.
“It’s because forests and mountain areas have been converted into housing, meaning the water does not seep into the ground,” said Amien Widodo at the Center for the Study of Earth, Disasters and Climate Change at Institute of Technology in Surabaya.