The forest and ground fires that have been raging in Sumatra and Kalimantan for weeks now, have already reached dangerous levels and the government should, therefore, declare a state of emergency in the affected areas and also firmly punish those behind the calamities, including by revoking licenses, a palm oil watchdog said.
“Sawit Watch is of the view that the smoke from the forest and ground fires is no longer a normal occurrence but is extraordinary and the government must be fully responsible for this. Therefore, Sawit Watch demands the government to …immediately declare an emergency situation for the regions of Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, and Kalimantan,” said the organization in a release obtained by The Palm Scribe on Wednesday (18/9).
Under an emergency status, the provision of relief aid and activities are integrated under a single authority, usually the government in the affected region or central government.
The organization said that the people in the affected areas were already complaining of breathing difficulties and could not conduct activities outsides of their homes because of the thickness of the smoke. Inda Fatinaware, Executive Director of Sawit Watch, condemned companies which were found to be involved in causing the fires.
“Companies proven to have engaged in burning forest and ground should not escape justice. The government and security personnel should firmly act against all companies proven to have engaged in the activities of burning forest and ground. The government must not lose to corporations or companies and must be able to prove that it is siding with the people and not only with large corporations,” Inda said.
The government, Sawit Watch said, has already declared four palm oil companies as suspects in the fires. The directorate-general for law enforcement of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Affairs has already sealed concessions covering 8,931 hectares of land belonging to 48 companies and one individual so far.
Inda said that some of the companies where the fires were found, had sustainability certifications from the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil 9ISPO) scheme and or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and some were also Malaysian owned.
“People is already really suffering from the smoke haze in these last few weeks. The impact of this smoke is already very worrying and this cannot be deemed a normal occurrence anymore. Especially since their exposure to haze is now a routine, yearly event and it is not impossible that this will carry a long term impact on human health or even may cause negative development in genetic terms,” Inda said.
Sawit Watch also demanded that the government take charge of all medical treatment costs from those people exposed to the smoke from the forest and ground fires, and evacuate those in the hardest-hit areas.