A Greenpeace team has investigated and documented the forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, which have now become an annual phenomenon, thanks to the effects of unsustainable logging, and are the cause of a thick smog-like haze over the entire region which threatens the health of millions of people and adds to the problem of climate change.
In tropical latitudes, months pass without any rain and in the
dryseason forests become susceptible to fire. These can occur
naturallyand would normally not pose a serious problem, but
clearing land as aresult of logging or to make way for plantations
is exacerbating theproblem and every year the fires spread faster
Greenpeaceteams in both Indonesia and Brazil have recorded the
scale of theinfernos and are clear about the reasons why they are
happening. Muchof the forests in the Indonesian province of Riau in
Sumatra arepeatland forests, so normally protected from fire by
their boggy environment,but industrial activity has changed all
that. The forests are beingcleared for plantations of oil palms and
acacia pulpwood for paper,creating the perfect conditions for fires
at the same time.
"Oncethese peat swamps are exposed due to logging," Greenpeace
forestcampaigner Hapsoro explained, "they dry out like a wet sponge
exposedto sunlight and become extremely flammable. Once it starts
burning,it's very difficult to stop without heavy rain."
The effects ofthe Indonesian fire also spread across the region.
Smoke drifts acrossSouth East Asia, clogging the air above the
Malaysian peninsular andincurring the wrath of neighbouring
governments, and Hapsoro urged theIndonesian authorities to take
urgent measures. "The Indonesiangovernment must seriously
reconsider allowing any type of land clearingto be done in these
areas to minimise the possibility of large anduncontrolled forest
fires," he said.
In the Brazilian Amazon,fires have been witnessed in several
protected areas and the Greenpeaceteam sent to investigate also saw
rampant deforestation and illegallogging. In the Jamanzim National
Forest, using natural resourcesresponsibly is permitted, but
intense logging activity has beenobserved within protected
Both regions boast some of themost diverse varieties of plant
and animal life anywhere in the worldbut fragile habitats, already
under pressure from human activities, arebeing pushed even harder
by the increasing number and scale of thefires.
Rest of the world suffers too
Rainforestsplay a vital role in regulating the global climate
and the more treesthat are felled, the more unpredictable the
climate will become.
Tropicaldeforestation accounts for around 20 percent of global
carbon dioxideemissions, a staggering amount that explains why 75
percent of Brazil'sown carbon dioxide contribution comes from
Butwith drought plaguing many areas - such as last year's
catastrophicevent in the Amazon - the forests dry out and become
even moresusceptible to fire. This in turn releases more carbon
dioxide and smoginto the atmosphere, accelerating climate change
and the cycle ofdestruction continues.
This isn't just a problem for Brazil andIndonesia but for the
whole planet. Concrete efforts must be made at alocal level to
protect rainforests from illegal logging and conversionto
plantations, but there must also be international support to
backthis up. Sustainable management of the forests allows local
communitiesto support themselves and make a living.
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